Actuated Cultural Knowledge
We’re live in 4-3-2-1 . . .
“When Jesus returns, will he be a Capitalist!?”
There was a pause and I looked over at Justin, wondering whether to feel pity or to laugh. The 45-year-old Muslim man looked at my younger Christian colleague with disdain and continued to hammer him:
“You can’t answer a simple question! You are out here on the street talking about Jesus and you can’t answer a simple question??”
I had spent hours on the streets of “globalized London,” and was not surprised to hear this man, who welcomed our conversation and was initially very congenial, turn adversarial. But Justin, as a newly graduated theology student, had been eager to be the lead as we engaged this man . . . so I watched for a while as Justin hung himself.
In the moment of the cultural encounter, you need more than a smart-topic degree, an MBA in International Business or the hutzpah to spearhead the foreign start-up.
How to be real:
1/ Become a Home-Culture Inspector and Know Your Own Cultural Habits. Operate from a conviction that even though you don’t always have access to a mirror, you are dressed in your Home-culture clothes. Make a habit of asking yourself WHY YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? Where does a fork come from? Why is “happiness” an entitlement and a goal in your culture? What is the source of your drive for efficiency and productivity? Try to be okay with not making yourself feel comfortable when you are on the scene in the cross-cultural context. This is an important platform if you want a view of reality.
2/ Make a Trusted Friend.
I didn’t much like Renaud when I first met him, but my friend told me he could be trusted. Renaud seemed a bit too sure of himself and his ability to get things done. But there I was a newbie, with rusty French, in an unfamiliar context, where local language was just as important. I needed to be led by the hand, at least for a few days. Insiders help.
Next level. I have come to know Rajesh and Nisha, Isaac and Joanna, Elrod and Elise, Rula, Mohamed, and others, as well or better than Home-culture friends. Their answers to my questions give me access to understand communities in and from four continents. These are more than “wiki-people,” doling out factoids, and more than temporary-Renaud. They are literally and intensely my shared humanity, co-weepers, co-rejoicers, and co-workers on the journey of life. When you sense and feel as they do, that’s actuated cultural knowledge.
3/ Designate TIME as your Agent.
Ask & Learn Why They do WHAT THEY DO- aka observe and listen.
Consciously designate Mr. Time as your agent to do this. Don’t expect immediate results and successes. Make time work for you and don’t be a slave to your Home-culture clock. I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought II had immediately connected to a new friend only to discover that I hadn’t. And, local practice is just that – no one is going to be heard who walks in off the street and straightaway tells them they have a better way. Nor can you negotiate (not right away) with a vendor who, for some (good but not apparent) reason, is bent on showing you his father-in-law’s town 40 miles away.
4/ Get to the Subsurface.
Use the superficial: No culture is going to show you its hand, you have to look for the “tells.” The operating systems of life and business in the Other Culture evolved, likely through centuries of tradition-building, politics, conflicts, and survival. You won’t find out what happened on the playground 20 years ago until you have been there for a while. But, make it a goal to dig deep into behaviors, decision-making, and what has honor. Discovering mindsets and worldviews will get you a seat at the table at the real party. Know your friends well and you will know their community, its hopes, goals and needs. There are no shortcuts to serious engagement. Blogs, books, and internet sites can only fill some needed informational gaps to you limit being the fool “over there.”
Trusted local relationships, and
Your conscious investment of Time trying to
Get to the core of Other-culture habits will
These ADD UP to Actuated Cultural Knowledge.
Note: The people are real but the names used here have been fictionalized.