knowing culture

GETTING TO KNOW A NEW CULTURE

About Tendency Pairs

Anthropologists have discovered many areas in with people may tend toward one extreme or another. For example, some societies give prominence to the desires of the individual, while others expect the individual to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of the group (whether family or village).

Most people are found somewhere between the two extremes of the pair. Most people in a given society will tend toward one or the other extreme, but there also will be people who do not fit in with their own society’s norms. You need to both understand the general trend of the society you are in, and also the specific tendencies of the individual you are sharing with. It helps if you have thought about where your society fits on these pairs, and how you as an individual compare to the norms of your society. If the person you are sharing with is different from you, it takes effort on your part to accept that person as he is, and to deal with him on his own customs.

Here are some of the common tendency pairs. Can you think of more?

1.individual/community. You study what the family wants you to study.

2.direct/indirect. In Asian cultures, the most important thing is to prevent the other person from losing face.

3.material/spiritual. Some cultures in Africa see a spiritual power behind illness or misfortune, such as a spell, or because of something bad done in a past life, or because the ancestors are angry

4.time oriented/event oriented. In some cultures, an event set for 10 am might not happen until noon. You may feel frustrated, but they feel just fine.

5.rule by eldest/rule by most suitable. In Taiwan, the leadership of the church fell naturally to those who were most advanced in age.

6.democratic/authoritarian. Some people feel most comfortable having a trusted leader tell them what to do.

7.cooperative/competitive. In Japan, decisions are made cooperatively and it is not acceptable to stand out from the group.

To make use of these pairs: Draw a line between the two extremes of each pair. Draw a small circle at the spot on each line where you feel “American culture” fits on each of the lines. This portrays something about the American  “world view.” It shows what Americans define as “normal” behavior; to the extent that other cultures appear elsewhere on the lines means those cultures will appear “abnormal” or “deficient.” Your personal views may not always be the same as the average American view, so now make a mark  that shows where you would fit on each of the lines.

As you get to know your host culture, you will tentatively draw a circle showing where it fits. Note that the individuals you will encounter may also differ from their own cultures, so you would also make a mark describing individuals you have met. (In fact, it is likely that they will differ, and it is that difference that may have drawn them to you.) Caution: cultures are a “moving target,” and now especially because of the impact of western secularized culture upon other cultures. (Just by getting off the plane, you are part of that impact, because you bring the good and bad of western culture with you.) These complications underscore the necessity of  “listening to the other person” rather than assuming that you know what they believe. I encourage you to create additional sets of opposites as an ongoing way of understanding your host culture (and there are more examples on my web site at Cross Cultural Insights.

For a more detailed explanation, see the book Ministering Cross-Culturally, an incarnational model for Personal Relationships, by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

Life Activity Charts

These charts help you to be systematic in studying a new culture.  They are adapted by the author from lists found in many writings about culture.  They list common activities and ask you to determine what the culture (or person) looks to when the need arises.  This is a way to make concrete our study of the two outer layers of the onion diagram. There are three charts below:
…..Chart 1  What do they look to in major Life Events?
…..Chart 2  What do they look to for Daily Needs?
…..Chart 3 What do they look to for Inner Needs?
To make maximum use of the charts, first fill out a chart for your own culture, and then add notations where you personally may differ from your own culture. Then fill out a chart for the new culture, and add notations where the individual you are working differs from that culture.  Here are the charts:

. Chart 1: Life events

Marking
Birth
Coming
of Age
Wedding Divorce Education Selecting
Career
Funeral
Personal
Spiritual
Matter
Family
Spiritual
Matter
Community
Spiritual
Matter
Spiritual
Practitioner
(shaman, priest)
Draw on
Another
Religion
Personal
Secular
Matter
Family
Matter,
Secular
Government
Matter
Professonal
Secular person
(doctor, lawyer)
Commercial
(like funeral home)

Chart 2: life needs

Escape
violence
Find food Find
Shelter
Finding
job
Facing
illness
Finding
spouse
Educating
kids
Personal
Spiritual
Matter
Family
Spiritual
Matter
Community
Spiritual
Matter
Spiritual
Practitioner
(shaman, priest)
Draw on
Another
Religion
Personal
Secular
Matter
Family
Matter,
Secular
Government
Matter
Professonal
Secular person
(doctor, lawyer)
Commercial
(like funeral home)

Chart 3: Inner needs

Face
fears
find love,
acceptance
find identity,
self-worth
Finding
meaning
find
hope
finding
truth
Selecting
values
Face evil,
suffering
Personal
Spiritual
Matter
Family
Spiritual
Matter
Community
Spiritual
Matter
Spiritual
Practitioner
(shaman, priest)
Draw on
Another
Religion
Personal
Secular
Matter
Family
Matter,
Secular
Government
Matter
Professonal
Secular person
(doctor, lawyer)
Commercial
(like funeral home)

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