21 August 2014

Cultural Differences #8; We each have an indelible pattern of behavior - a great illustration

11th juror: (rising) ‘I beg pardon, in discussing… ‘

10th juror: (interrupting and mimicking) ‘I beg pardon. What are you so goddam polite about?’

11th juror: (looking straight at 10th juror) ‘For the same reason you’re not. It’s the way I was brought up.’

~ excerpt from Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose

Twelve Angry Men is an American theater piece which became famous as a motion picture, starring Henry Fonda. The play was written in 1955. The scene consists of the jury room of a New York court of law. Twelve jury members who have never met before have to decide unanimously on the guilt of innocence of a boy from a slum area, accused of murder.

The quote above is from the second and final act when emotions have reached boiling point. It is a confrontation between the 10th juror, a garage owner, and the 11th juror, a European-born watchmaker. The 10th juror is irritated by what he sees as the excessively polite manners of the other man.

But the watchmaker cannot behave otherwise. 

After many years in his new home country, 
he still behaves the way he was raised.

He carries within himself 
an indelible pattern of behavior.

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Illustration from:
Cultures and Organizations; Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival
     by Geert Hofstede

19 August 2014

Cultural Differences #7: Ambiguity versus Clearly-Defined Arrangements, Plans, etc.

African Friends 
and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

Africans find security 
in ambiguous arrangements, 
plans, and speech.

Westerners find security in clearly defined relationships, arrangements, plans, and speech.

Africans’ Ambiguity
Part of the social code in Africa is the use of ambiguity and the indirect approach, for it provides allowances for the uncertainties of life. It allows for ‘flexibility for changing realities’ or ‘keeping the options open’. It also gives ample allowance for ‘saving face’, that is, for avoiding embarrassment for oneself or others.

The following are areas where ambiguity is often seen: 
  • Borrowing money or resources, which leaves open when, how, or if return or repayment will be made.
  • Not having fixed prices maximizes the possibility of making greater profits by allowing the seller to maintain the advantage of knowing his bottom ‘last price’. It also allows for the inclusion of personal relationships and other subjective factors in pricing decisions.
  • Allowing for the renegotiation of agreements in the light of changed facts, hoping for a better agreement.
  • Not keeping accurate or precise financial records.
  • ‘No’ being an unacceptable response in many situations where it expresses a finality that is considered to be negative and even hostile, easily leading to a rupture in relationship.
  • Arriving or starting times for meetings or gatherings being indefinitely later than the announced times. Paying close attention to time gives Westerners a sense of security, whereas it causes a lot of anxiety for Africans.

Ambiguity is an art in Africa 
and imprecision is its first cousin.

The language of Africans is often imprecise and their numbers inexact. Westerners should be watchful for roundabout approaches by Africans they meet or work with. It takes more time and you may struggle to understand the point someone is making. But it’s your role to discover the issue. Africans love symbolism, proverbs, and double meanings, not straight-forward speech.

A confrontational, direct approach is inappropriate in Africa. People will find you offensive if you use this style. Instead, you need to communicate by beating around the bush.

Africans experiences have taught them that much of life if uncertain, including the future. Therefore, much caution is needed. Government is all-powerful and the goals and policies of those in power are shrouded in secrecy and are largely unknown. Transparency is much talked about but little practiced.

Available resources are very limited and there is much conflict over their control. Consequently, to commit oneself to a future action or to the use of personal resources is very hazardous or even reckless. Who can tell what will happen after a decision is made that will affect one’s resources, the rules, and even the playing field?

Ambiguity gives security because flexibility is built in; contingencies are allowed for. People have learned to be present oriented, preferring to focus on the present and deal with the uncertain future as it comes along.

Westerners’ Clarity

American idioms that express such clarity and directness of speech:
  • Lay your cards on the table.
  • Stop beating around the bush.
  • Face the facts.
  • Get on with the business at hand.
  • Call a spade a spade.
  • Stand up and be counted.
  • Get it direct from the horse’s mouth.
In fundamental contrast to the African experience, Westerners’ experiences and education have taught them that those who plan ahead get ahead. The conditions of their lives, governments, and institutions have been stable and predictable. And they assume they will continue that way. They have found that it pays to carefully budget their resources, time, and activities.

Ambiguity causes worry because future plans need to be settled now. If something is determined to be advantageous now, take advantage of it as conditions may not be quite as advantageous in the future. Ambiguity causes worry because of a need to know what future actions and commitments will be.

Ambiguity prevents Westerners from planning for the future. Being future-oriented, they need to make detailed plans for the future and when unable to do so, they are frustrated.

[Note: This post contains selected excerpts from the book 
and is only one out of 90 that the author explains.]

18 August 2014

Cultural Difference #6: Compliments in the form of a request

African Friends 
and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

Africans often give compliments indirectly 
in the form of a request for gifts, 
forming them as a question.

Westerners are not used to such compliments and easily misinterpret 
them or take offense. 

Typical compliment 
Can I have your shirt? 

Typical response 
I’ll give it to you when it has a little brother. 
[Meaning: ‘When I have another I’ll give it to you.’)

Africans understand responses (like above example) as replies that mean ‘no’, but that are more considerate of feelings. The rules of the game dictate that the response to the compliment be given in one of these styles:
  • Appear to take the compliment seriously as a request. 
  • Fend off the request with a polite and phony excuse. 
  • What most delights Africans is to make a clever joke out of it, and even mildly embarrass the one making the compliment. 

Playing word such word games is one of the joys of conversation to Africans.

Westerners do not give compliments as requests. While living in Africa, Westerners are constantly approached for actual requests for money, assistance, etc. and feel bombarded by these unpleasant encounters. Because of that, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the subtle differences of begging and a compliment formed as a request.

[Note: This post contains selected excerpts from the book 
and is only one out of 90 that the author explains.]

14 August 2014

Cultural Differences #5: Generosity through hospitality versus generosity through charitable giving

African Friends 
and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

Africans are more generous in a hospitable sense
but are not as charitable.

Westerners are more generous in a charitable sense
but are not as hospitable.

“I can stay with any of my extended family or friends and they will feed me as long as I’m there. It’s expected for them to be generous this way.”
~ personal testimony of a West African

There is nothing more classically African than being invited - with insistence - to eat a meal, when happening to drop in on people at mealtime. This applies even to strangers. 

But Africans give little to charities outside of what could be called their zone of personal interest. 

The African way is to be more generous spontaneously, not thinking of the long term but of the immediate need.

Westerners collectively give billions to charitable organizations. However, Westerners may not want to offer a meal to someone (especially a stranger) that was not invited or planned for. Westerners are typically only hospitable within a small circle of friends, but will give charitably to any need in the world. 

The Western way is more planned, budgeted, and giving for long-term good.

[Note: This post contains selected excerpts from the book and is only one out of 90 that the author explains.]

12 August 2014

Cultural Differences #4: Quantity versus Quality of Friendships

African Friends and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

To an African, a network of friends is a network of resources. 

Friendship and mutual aid go together. More friends means more financial security. 

A friendship devoid of financial or other material considerations is a friendship devoid of a fundamental ingredient: mutual dependence. It is only natural to expect material benefit from friendships.

To a Westerner this comes close to buying friendship, or of seeking and having friends for what one can get out of them. Any friendship that includes material consideration is suspect. Western friendships are built on and valued for: mutual interests, easy social interaction, loyalty, and emotional support; but not normally on finances.

But when questioned, Africans emphatically reject any suggestion that their practice of friendship involves ‘buying friends’.

Westerners seek a relatively few deep, emotionally and psychologically satisfying real friendships. Quality of close friends is seen to be incompatible with quantity. A person is thought not to be able to maintain many close friends.

Africans seek to have a multitude of relatively casual or superficial friendships. Quantity is not seen as incompatible with quality of friendship. 

There is a great quest for increasing one’s network of friends. There is a need to be greeted by and to greet many people, thereby demonstrating affirmation and respect.

In Africa, friendships and connections are essential so there is someone to turn to in case of a multitude of problems that are bound to come up, and for which people are the only way that solutions can be found. 

When public institutions and services are weak, ineffectual, corrupt, or nonexistent, friends are the resources needed for achieving a decent life. It is entirely understandable and logical then that friendships take on very different meanings in the West and in Africa.

Although the Westerner wants to have African friends, when a request for money comes too early and before a bond of respect and trust is established, he sees such requests as manipulation. He thinks the African believes he has pockets full of money and should be willing to share it with his new ‘friend’ who has great material needs.

The Westerner can summarily reject such personal encounters and the people who make them, or can candidly accept them as facts of life in Africa. The latter course of action allows the Westerner to move forward to work out the negative and sometimes positive possibilities that derive from relationships with particular individuals.

Because of this major difference, the formation of true, 
meaningful, and satisfying friendships are difficult to achieve 
between a Westerner and an African. 
It’s not impossible, but it requires effort and commitment 
on both sides to bring it about.

[Note: This post contains selected excerpts from the book 
and is only one out of 90 that the author explains.]

11 August 2014

Cultural Differences #3: The Sharing of Space, Possessions, and Knowledge

African Friends 
and Money Matters  
by David Maranz

This post contains selected excerpts from the book:

Africans readily share space and things, 
but are possessive of knowledge.

Westerners readily share knowledge, 
but are possessive of space and things.

“Sharing brings a full stomach; selfishness brings hunger.” 
~ Congolese proverb

In Africa, people are almost constantly with others and avoid being alone. They prefer to work in groups while farming, on jobs, or in the kitchen - in fact, virtually all the time. If someone prefers to be alone to a noticeable extent, they are considered strange, antisocial, or even to be feared. Privacy can be achieved by simply not addressing nearby people and not being addressed by them for a certain time; in other words - being left alone even while in the presence of others. They have social, but not spatial privacy. For Westerners, being alone means occupying a certain space all alone, requiring both spatial and social separation from others.

The giving, borrowing, and loaning of resources in Africa shows interdependence. It means living in community rather than in isolation. Those who refuse to share, give, and loan their resources are considered selfish and disdainful of their friends or relatives. Africans consider their way of life to be superior to the Western emphasis on personal possessions and personal rights above responsibility to others.

If something is not being actively used, it is considered a ‘surplus’ and is available for their use. If you do not have one, or have less, then the owner should give it or some of it, to the one who has none or less. This can apply to anything from personal possessions, money, supplies, and equipment. If the owner does not yield to the request, they will be considered selfish, ungenerous, insensitive, or even not a friend.

Those who have more find creative ways to avoid this; for instance, hiding some possessions. Or they may gradually put their money (as they earn it) into a fixed asset, like a building, to keep it from being borrowed. Thus, one of the most common sights in Africa are partially built houses and buildings.

For Africans, there is a general concept that certain categories of information and knowledge are private. When it comes to what they know, many facts are closely guarded and will be revealed only in very measured ways. In contrast, Westerners share knowledge much more freely than Africans. For example, one of our beliefs is that the dissemination of scientific and technical information benefits society.

We also share our personal thoughts more freely than Africans. For example, a news reporter might ask someone how they felt after losing their house in a tornado and the interviewee would comfortably share their innermost feelings.

05 August 2014

Cultural Differences #2: Entering a new and different culture as if you were a child

Ministering Cross-Culturally; an Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships  by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

This post contains selected excerpts from the book:

People called to minister in a foreign setting must be acutely aware of the cultural differences they will encounter.

Conflict arises from the fact that people often attribute moral force to their priorities for personal behavior and judge those who differ from them as flawed, rebellious, or immoral.

Definitions of culture:
·       The distinctive characteristics of a people’s way of life
·       A collection of shared ideas and values
·       The ways in which people order their lives, interpret their experiences, and evaluate the behavior of others
·       A set of conceptual tools and social arrangements that people use to adapt to their environment and to order their lives in the pursuit of food, shelter, and family and community relationships

Cultural blindness makes us ineffective communicators in alien contexts and leads us to assume that the problem lies with others rather than with ourselves… We become certain that our way of doing things is the proper way, and we are blinded to the possibilities of doing things differently or of engaging in new behaviors that might be beneficial.

We must begin as a child and grow in the midst of the people we wish to serve. We must be learners and let them teach us as if we were helpless infants.

Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ, that of incarnation, means undergoing drastic personal reorientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. Moreover, they must do this in the spirit of Christ without sin.

Discarding or setting aside something of one’s American-ness is almost sacrilege to many people. Our way of life is often equated with godliness and we defend vigorously its apparent rightness. As such, this way of life has become our prison. 

We must love the people to whom we minister so much that we are willing to enter their culture as children, to learn to speak as they speak, play as they play, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, study what they study, and thus earn their respect and admiration. 

An individual who is not ready to give up being an American for a time and to begin learning as a child is not ready for the challenge of cross-cultural ministry.

Jesus said, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.’ ~Matthew 16:24

We must enter a new community of strangers, often without many – if not most – of the comforts and symbols of home, and begin as children, learning at the feet of those we have gone to serve. We must become world Christians.

Two keys for successful personal relationships in ministry are:
·         Obedience to the commands of Scripture
·         Accepting that others have a viewpoint that is as worthy of consideration as our own

Ministering cross-culturally places demands on us. To paraphrase Paul, we must become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might win some (I Corinthians 9:22). As we live and interact with people of another culture, we must adapt to their ways.

It is probably humanly impossible to become 100% incarnate in another culture. As finite human beings, we are constrained by the limitations of our minds, our life histories, and our personal abilities. Few of us have the emotional strength to endure the changes that full incarnation in another culture would require. We are weak people, yet God has made it clear that he loves the weak and uses them to accomplish his purposes. 

The goal of becoming partially incarnate in the culture of those to whom we minister is, by God’s grace, within our grasp.

We must accept the host culture as a valid, albeit imperfect, way of life. We must suspend our commitment to the context in which we have lived all our lives, enter into a cultural context that is strange to us, and see that new context as the framework for our life and ministry.

One of my old alien cards

In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter speaks of this as being aliens - or strangers - in the culture to which God sends us.

This significant change in our thinking will allow us to enter into relationships with people whose values and lifestyle are fundamentally different from our own.

If we desire to be obedient to Jesus' command, to carry the good news of his resurrection to the world:
  • We must accept the value priorities of others. 
  • We must learn the definitions and rules of the context in which they live. 
  • We must adopt their patterns and procedures for working, playing, and worshiping. 
  • We must become incarnate in their culture and make them our family and friends. 
  • We must do all this empowered through faith and freedom in Jesus Christ and living in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

The challenges will shape us; the changes will trouble us. Our bodies will get sick, our minds will suffer fatigue, our emotions will sweep us from ecstasy to depression. Yet the love of Christ will sustain us.

04 August 2014

Cultural Differences #1: Three illustrations

The Monkey ‘Serves’ the Fish

A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current.

It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters.

Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.

- an Eastern proverb

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In 1893, a pair of pioneering brothers set up a sawmill at Limuru, Kenya. Facing the challenge of shifting hundreds of tons of earth without mechanical assistance, they imported a consignment of wheelbarrows.

But when they inspected the works later, they found laborers filling the wheelbarrows and carrying them to the dumping grounds on their heads.

This was interpreted as behavior of unfathomable stupidity. But it simply illustrates the gulf between two ways of thinking.

- Too Close to the Sun, by Sara Wheeler

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It’s like two whole separate circles revolving around each other – their world and ours – and only just touching occasionally.

Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley
(spoken by Tilly, a British settler in Kenya in the early 1900's)

01 August 2014

A walk on the wild side; exploring and enjoying God's out-of-doors

Our outing began with pizza for lunch at Whistling Thorns.
We then simply crossed Isinya Road to begin our adventure. 

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.
~ Aristotle 

Hannah and I thoroughly enjoyed a pensive and appreciative walk on the wild side.
There were no signs, no paths, and no people as we meandered through
the scrub acacia trees, always with Ngong Hills in sight.

Close-up of one of the variety of acacia trees. Absolutely beautiful in its colorful simplicity.

Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.
~ Albert Einstein

We were ecstatic when God blessed us with the sight of a large
herd of zebra, running gracefully through the trees!

We were equally thrilled to see a large herd of Thompson's
gazelle bounding and leaping as they ran through the brush.

All good things are wild and free.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two roads diverged in a wood and I, 
I took the one less traveled by, 
and that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost 

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[Note: Photos of zebras and gazelle are from the internet. The rest are mine.]