Some of us are already familiar with terms such as IQ (General mental ability) and EQ (Emotional intelligence). Contemporary research has identified that while IQ is important in most problem solving and work situations, it does not necessarily include effectiveness in managing personal emotions (or being attentive to the emotions of others). EQ complements IQ by focusing on the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions and use them in thinking process. Since 1990, EQ has been a popular topic in Psychology. But it does not necessarily include effectiveness in dealing with cultural differences. In short, CQ is about awareness of our own culturally-conditioned behaviour as well as that of others.
When people from two distinct cultures come into contact with each other, they tend to draw conclusions based solely on their limited world views. Cultural misunderstandings often arise out of what we do subconsciously. Then how can we improve our CQ? Perhaps knowing about a couple of concepts below can be a starting point.
We are mostly 'egocentric' by virtue of being grown up in the centre of our own world. At its centre is a particular culture that taught its 'right' ways. Ethnocentrism refers to our natural tendency to judge the behaviour of other people based on what we know to be true. For example, we generally eat with forks and spoons (or chopsticks!). Based on our assumption that eating with cutlery is the proper etiquette, we may think people eating with their fingers, as in India and the Middle East, are improper or even uncivilised.
But what about the Indian perspective? Indians wash their hands before eating and only put them in their own mouth. By contrast, how many other people have licked those same spoons and forks that we put in our mouth? Dealing with ethnocentrism is a lifelong process. When the feelings of 'they' become 'we', only then we are open to the underlying values of other people's behaviour.
Bi-culturalism refers to co-existence of two originally distinct cultures. For example, when someone migrates to another country and adapts to a new culture, he or she becomes a bi-cultural person. The degree to which the person is bi-cultural would make an interesting study (in my view, most people are rarely 50/50). But regardless of this, the bi-cultural person really lives in two worlds.
Some of these people, particularly younger ones, may feel more comfortable in their adopted culture than in their native one, but inside they are still part of both. Being a Korean who lived half of my life in the Western culture, I can identify myself with this. No matter which culture I am in, I sometimes seek things like food, news or activities that reaffirm the either side of my culture.
As Lloyd Kwast puts it, 'the ultimate goal of identification is not to see how much like the other culture one can become, but how profoundly and effectively one can learn to communicate with those of the other culture'.
Cultural baggage with the Gospel?
What about Christian culture? We have developed many rules and distinct cultures across denominations over time. It is worth noting that rejection of Christianity is often based on the rejection of the cultural baggage (e.g. organisational rules, dress codes, clapping of hands, music style, pulpits, program structure, financial systems etc.) that is placed on the message, rather than the message itself.
The objective of mission work should be "indigenous" churches, meaning the Gospel should be contextualised to the local environment, rather than indoctrinating the local leaders in Western ways of thought and procedure. The New Testament church model is about expressing the essentials in a way that is appropriate to the local culture. Sharing the love of Jesus does not need to come with a set of our own rules on how to run ministries.
Let me conclude with this quote:
"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love". -St. Augustine.
Daniel Jang is a Graduate Diploma in Theology (GradDipTh) student at Laidlaw Bible College in New Zealand.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html