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    Monday, June 4, 2012

    Urban Life #2

    In the last installment of Urban Life, we looked at some normative reasons for cross-cultural conflict.  This post will look at a couple more reasons.  This is Part 2 of a 4 part series on Cross-Cultural Conflict.

    Conflict Resolution
                Once we get through the idea of language, we must head into the topic of conflict resolution.  This reason for cross-cultural conflict literally only came to my attention during a class I recently took, because in my narrow view of the world, I figured everyone handled conflict resolution the same way I did.  I made an assumption of the wider world around me and found I was wrong.   

      In the book Cross-Cultural Conflict, Elmer’s words helped me to understand this when he said: “In many cultures of the world, individuals are not singled out and identified as being responsible for a problem” (Elmer, 1993, Pg. 46).  This “singling” out happens all the time in America, and since I worked with a multi-ethnic group, I didn’t take into account the culture of “America” as a factor, but it truly is.

                Along this line of conflict resolution, Elmer continues “Directness in language implies that one can speak to a problem without offending the person.  Western culture tends to separate the person from the problem, the person from the action or the person from the idea” (Elmer, 1993, pg. 49).  This directness at the person to fix the problem is not the way two-thirds of the world works as Elmer again points out: “Most people in the world do not place a high value on direct, face-to-face confrontation to solve a conflict” (Elmer, 1993, pg. 50).

                In fact, when directness is applied to the majority of people in the world, the result is a shame so large the person feels compelled to leave the situation.  Being directly called out in most cultures is wrong, mean and shameful. This is completely counter cultural to our Western minds and many confuse this with weakness within the other cultures.  When we read such a difference as a weakness, we fail to realize it’s cultural and begin to look at it as personal.

                These assumptions, reactions and simple break downs of people’s actions are a large contributing factor to much of Cross-cultural interactions and relationships.  This is why cultural sensitivity is so very key to truly do well in cross-cultural environments.  

                In the cultures that do not put high priority on personal face-to-face confrontation, the assumption could be made by Westerners that they don’t care about correction or making things different, yet they do.  The approach is much more ambiguous to be sure, but placing the blame on a team in a team manner causes the individual at fault to change, because he/she has brought shame to the team.  This person, realizing the burden weighs upon them will most likely make the changes needed in order to save face for the whole team.
                In talking with my father on this matter, he shared that as a military man the drill sergeant trains the men in much the same way, team being the most important that is.  The individual is not always the one to get yelled at by the sergeant, but rather the entire team is yelled at and suffers for the weakness of the individual.  It is on the team to correct the individual and on the individual to change for the sake of the team.  

                Another way to understand this cultural difference is to look at Asian family dynamics.  When a child goes off the deep end, the parents correct the child by saying: “You are bringing shame and dishonor to the family”.  I always assumed this was some manipulative tactic rather than a true belief, yet in looking at conflict resolution through different culturally colored lenses, one can see that this reprimand is actually a reality for the family.  This tension between corporate responsibility and individual responsibility is a large challenge for Americanized Eastern children still in an Eastern family culture.

    Understanding of God
                Since this is a blog series is on cross-cultural conflict pertaining mostly to the church, this point needs to be made as a normative reason for conflict.  As I’ve spent more time with people from different cultures than myself, I have noticed that not everyone relates to, or understands God in the same way that I myself do.  Many people could presume that a person who grew up with a good father would relate differently to God as father than a person who grew up with no father or a bad father.  Yet, we fail to see how people from different cultures could relate to or even understand God differently.  When we fail to understand this, we see little reason to diversify our preaching style, or music styles,  and this is dangerous.  If we don’t see that people relate to and understand God differently, yet we are trying to build a cross-cultural group of people, we are missing it.  DeYmaz says it well in his book Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church when he says: “To build a healthy multi-ethnic church, then, it is in worship that leaders must begin to promote a spirit of inclusion” (DeYmaz, 2007, pg. 109).

                In Mark DeYmaz’s book: Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, he describes all the details they put into place in order make people from different cultural backgrounds feel welcomed.  The list includes: open spaced worship, diverse music, diverse sermons and preachers, flags of all nations hanging around the building, signage in different languages and much more.  This welcoming allows them to realize this church is a place for them and speaks to the fact that there is an understanding that they are different and may in fact understand God in different ways.  

                As Christians  in a constantly changing demographic in the West, we need to get on board with such details, especially if we desire to reach out to those different than ourselves.  My culture: white male is no longer the majority in this country, so we need to humble ourselves and realize that fact, learn more about others and include their flavors in our churches.

     Most of this series is based off of a research paper that was done on the topic of Cross-Cultural Conflict, yet as we seek to look at Urban Life together, I think these findings are key to understanding why sometimes our interactions with others of different cultures can and will cause conflict.  When you talk about Urban Life you are talking about different people congregating in one small area, so, we must learn how to interact well with one another.