Cultural context. Cultural adaptation. Cultural appropriation. Culture change. Culture is king. I have lost some of you already…

If you are like me you get to hear some form of ideology on culture on a regular basis. If you are further like me, you also enjoy asking questions about culture; what it is, how it impacts us, how it changes, how others become part of it. More often than not, if you are experiencing a culture to which you belong, you are almost unable to differentiate key parts of your culture. In other words, can you explain what makes your culture unique?

That last part is probably the most fun to discern with someone.

Taking my post from last week on values to the next level, it is important to look at our culture and occasionally discuss what is true to our values. And the next step is to discuss how our culture impacts those within, and of course, those on the outside. Your culture may be more defined and exclusive than you first imagined.

It is helpful at this point to clarify all the overlapping cultures of which you are a part. As an individual you hold stories and truths which apply to ever broadening circles of influence going outward.

  • It starts with what you call family, then
  • School or work
  • The group you call friends (and that could be different for each friendship group to which you belong)
  • Your community
  • Your faith group
  • Your team
  • Your nation

And on and on you could go, discerning more and more groups, each with their own values and ways to be part of ‘us’. And that is the key: What does it mean to be part of us? And what does it mean if you are not? Most of the differences between being ‘in’ or ‘out’ may seem a little fuzzy, because you just know it when you are in it. But a person who is not inside could offer up some answers…if you ask.

When I walk into a new setting culture is the first thing I ‘feel’. You realize things are done differently. Certain words are met with different reaction. The way you do like is just not ‘normal’ because you are a foreign body in the middle of someone else’s ‘normal’. Some scenarios are far more dramatic than others, but at the end of the day, they are still ‘different’. Helping someone see those differences, and how they impact others, can be very helpful in taking that next step in living on mission in their setting.

One of my main topics in facilitating communication is the comparison between UNDERSTANDING and AGREEMENT. It shows up often because it is so often a key breaking point in how we communicate with one another. When you speak with someone, or you communicate an idea or wish, take a moment to consider whether your desire in the moment is to have the person agree with you, or understand what you are saying. If you are only seeking agreement, rarely will the person fully understand you, but they will definitely capture the value behind your words. Many become agreeable simply because of the implication attached to not fully understanding. To understand someone, to take the time to be understood, and still not arrive at agreement, is a key component in healthy community. Many cultures, especially in created circumstances like a church group, quite easily fall into a passive cultural pattern, where understanding is subverted and unspoken, but agreement is assumed.

So when I am invited into another’s culture I try to communicate:

  • UNDERSTANDING – Sometimes even better than the people who are living within it! Many have never had someone observe openly from the ‘outside’, so I want to make sure I express understanding of the ‘how/what’ of their normal
  • AGREEMENT – This may be what is necessary for them to strive in community with one another, but it is not necessary for me to walk with them. In order to facilitate change and whatever the next chapter in their story might be, I need to understand them, but agreement is not part of the deal.

So what is important to you as you enter the space of another? Take a learning tour of what they represent, gain understanding, and then you can discuss agreement. A community that allows disagreement is one which allows for growth and greater unity in the long run.

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