I am consistently challenged by the words of writers like this who are working cross-culturally. After reading When Rich Westerners Don’t Know they are being Rich Westerners I feel the need to share this response. Jones writes about Westerners and how we act (or react) to different cultures. She wisely puts forth example after example of times when we as Westerns have just missed the boat – and maybe a few times when we’re learning we don’t have the answers… I’d encourage you to read it. It’s eye-opening.
So much of my job is meant to be a bridge between worlds. But reality is, in my American office with my American surroundings, I don’t always do it right. And so I want to share this – partially as a testament that I’m trying, and partially as a call to myself going forward – to respond well, to respond carefully – but to never be afraid.
Here’s Five Things I want to share about My Culture and Theirs:
1. I view other cultures through my first worldview – hopefully a little less each day. I spend time briefly each year with friends and co-workers in Haiti. But I don’t understand so much of it. It’s really hard to lay aside what I know of the world and experience it from a different background set of experiences. I don’t know if I will ever fully do that – I don’t know if any of us fully can leave our first worldview completely. But through God’s grace, even in my ineptitude in other cultures, I can first and foremost always respond to every experience and every story in Christ’s love. And through that, I think many of my cultural blunders become far less… I will make blunders. But I pray that the heart of my stories and my experiences are always founded in grace.
2. These experiences are worth sharing. But I always want to do so with a clear understanding of my American lens, that I am a guest and there are things I don’t understand. I am not an expert in their culture. I think it’s really easy to read something like the “Rich Westerners” article and feel like I just royally screwed up whatever good I was trying to do by writing or sharing compelling stories I’ve seen in another culture.
So here’s my thought: I need to be sensitive to share as accurately and as respectfully as I can, but don’t let it paralyze. Those who live in a culture that isn’t their first and those who are deeply connected to other cultures hold a valuable thread that connects the world. Sharing that, tender as we must be, helps all of us respond better. Perhaps through our honesty, carefulness and openness, fewer Westerners will make the mistakes we are so quick to condemn in others.
3. The world isn’t so big that we can’t relate to people no matter what culture we come from. In fact, sometimes I think we might make the differences in cultures seem so scary that we don’t want to bridge them at all. Certainly, it’s easier to stay in our first cultures. But I believe some of the beauty that we will face in Revelations 7 has to do with the fact that we can embrace differences and come together in something cosmically beautiful and glorious. We NEED all cultures. Don’t let the fear of misunderstanding them keep you from embracing them.
4. There is beauty everywhere. And there is also pain. My next door neighbors, the people right outside the door to my office, and the economically poor in other countries. Calling injustices and wrong things as we see them isn’t wrong. There are horrible, hateful things that happen, and often in developing countries that we SHOULD be a voice against.
But we also must remember to paint a realistic, well-rounded picture. I’m throwing this challenge out to myself first – for every story of pain and hardship I tell, can I also find one of good and beauty? Am I equally seeing the good and the bad?
5. I’m going to keep learning. I’m finding great, immeasurable pleasure in learning more every day from some deeply wonderful people around the world. And through each blog post, each conversation and each story, I want to learn to respond better, more fully, more completely. Not as a Westerner. But as a child of God who seeks to embrace what the world is and pour out His love in all I say and do.