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What impacts your worldview?

In yesterday’s blog, I challenged readers to take a look at the narrowness of their worldview. But how do we even know what’s narrow and what’s not? There are the various components of a worldview that we take for granted: religious pluralism and freedom, economic structures, uniformity of langua…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
In yesterday’s blog, I challenged readers to take a look at the narrowness of their worldview. But how do we even know what’s narrow and what’s not? There are the various components of a worldview that we take for granted: religious pluralism and freedom, economic structures, uniformity of language, governmental institutions, a free press, and an unbiased view of history for example. And then there is what you know about these things or your relative ignorance.
But so much of your worldview has nothing to do with what you know about the rest of the world, but your attitude towards cultural differences.

For example how high is your cultural self-awareness or your cultural sensitivity? Do you have any cross-cultural communication skills? What is you tolerance for ambiguity? Brooks Peterson wrote a book that is helpful in posing these kinds of questions called Cultural Intelligence: A guide to working with people fom other cultures.

In it, he notes the ways in which cultures differ. For example, a cultural style “based on equality means people prefer to be self-directed, have flexibility in roles, have freedom to challenge those above, have freedom to make exceptions, and expect to treat men and women in the same way.” 

A style based on hierarchy means “people prefer to take direction, have limitations on behavior for certain roles, respect opinions of those in power, enforce regulations, and expect men and women to behave and be treated differently.”
Then there is the task vs. relationship dynamic – how does a given culture prioritize them?  Peterson notes, “Another way of understanding task versus relationship is to think of who we are versus what we do. In the U.S. we say ‘business before pleasure’ and in much of the rest of the world it’s ‘pleasure before business’ and ‘trust before business.”
Some themes that can vary according to culture:

•      Direct/indirect method of giving feedback, dealing with conflict, etc.
•      Physical distance of whether we stand closer together or farther apart
•      Eye contact and how it is interpreted as honesty or a challenge
•      Verbal intonation, volume, pace, and tone
•      Nonverbal communication gestures, posture, silence, etc.
•      Conversation flow
•      Level of formality

Want to grow in your cultural sensitivity? You might start by discussing some of the following questions that Peterson gives around the dinner table:

1.  What was the most interesting period of your life?  Why?
2.  Answer the question ‘Who are you?’ without referring to your occupation.
3.  Name five adjectives that describe most people you like.  Why do you like these attributes?
4.  How do you define friendship?
5.  How do you define ‘living well’?  How do you define ‘success’?
6. Do you have a purpose in life?  If so, what is it?

Comments (7)

  • I would have to agree with Peterson, our view in the west is based on time and schedules, where most other cultures are based on relationships. Relationships are the priority!!! Hmmmmmm, we have a lot to learn.
    I think when you are going into another culture our mindset should be what can I learn.
    Also before you go into another culture, do an “Ethnographic” study, (research on the culture, such as political and religious views, education and economics in that particular country. Have an understanding of the culture.
    There is also a great book “Ministering Cross Culturally”, An Incarnational Model For Personal Relationships. We are called into incarnational ministry, Christ in us the hope of glory. As we walk in love and humility, partnering with Christ He broadens our views of the world, so we are growing to have His worldview.
    It is a process.

  • Hey Seth,

    Thanks so much for this. It reminded me of PhD course work with Dr. Bill Howell who as a tenured professor at The University of Minnesota did some of the seminal work on intercultural coommunication.


  • Great thoughts for introspection. I especially like the cultural growth questions–ideal conversation topics.

    If we consider business as being about God’s business, then “trust before business” should always be our aim with people. Not once does Scripture tell us Jesus got in a hurry, or rushed anywhere. On the contrary, He always had time and He engaged people where they were. He gained the Samaritan woman’s confidence. Nicodemus trusted Him enough to come with questions. Three short years, and yet while on the Cross He triumphantly stated “It is finished.”

    Are there some ideals that are cross-cultural? I think love for someone would make you want to know them and understand their culture. The root issue always comes back to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

    I enjoy your blog and the reader comments. Challenging food for thought. Thanks.

  • I belonged to a Multi-Culture Club while at a community college a few years back. Loved it! I had been taking a Cultural Communications class at the same time, which is how I met the group. This group was composed mainly of ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

    Together we tried giving monthly presentations to the public on the different cultures represented in the club, such as India and Vietnam. Being a dietitian student, I chose the “foods of those countries” as my topic. An ESL student from Mexico helped me with my India presentation. It was fun!

    We also planned ethnic restaurant excursions together, like going to a Vietnam restaurant in Cleveland. I miss those days.

  • Seth-
    Do you think this would be a good ‘textbook’ to provide the interns at the Leadership Academy? I am looking for a replacement textbook for the practical side of the teaching. Thanks//Dave

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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