Amazingly, I got all the practice questions for the Australian Citizenship test correct! But does that make me a good citizen? Surely citizenship is more than knowing how parliament works or understanding various bits of legal terminology.
One on-line dictionary describes citizenship as the state of being a member of a particular country and having rights because of it. Oh good: I can vote and hold a passport.
Another definition calls citizenship the state of living in a particular town or area and behaving in a way that other people who live there expect of you. Aha – this is getting closer to reality.
Two way street
These two definitions address two different cultural world views. The first is purely from my perspective – what do I get out of becoming a citizen of this country? The second has a presumption that I am becoming part of a community. This brings an obligation to “fit in”, which also implies an obligation to understand the new community and work out how to “fit in”.
In our Western culture we often don’t fully understand how other cultures “do life”, leading to a lot of grief because of people reacting in ignorance. Some of these issues have to do with the way shame and honour are perceived by other cultures.
In Western cultures
In the West, we value our independence. It is important for me to feel good about myself, to have high self-esteem and to do things which bring me honour. Our concepts of shame and honour are largely personal, not community oriented. Read more.
In Asian cultures
Eastern cultures tend to be community oriented. If an individual does something shameful, they bring shame and dishonor to the whole community – the whole community loses face.
This can be redressed in public to restore the honour. One way to do that may be to have the courage to admit one’s wrongdoing and express the desire to change.
Conversely, if an individual does something honourable, the whole community basks in the glory of it and is honoured by that act.
Interestingly, shaming a person brings shame upon oneself, hence the extreme politeness with which communication is conducted.
In Middle Eastern cultures
In many cultures shame and honour are used to control behaviour, ensuring that the members of that society conform to the standards set in that society.
This is such a powerful force in, for example, Muslim societies, where becoming a Christian brings shame to the family. This shame justifies that person to be ostracized or even killed.
The application of shame or honour is decided by leaders of a tribal or religious community and pushes people to conform to accepted behavior.
In African cultures
A similar dynamic operates here: people respect elders and authority figures. One does not bring shame on oneself by questioning a teacher, because one might imply that the teacher does not know what they are talking about.
A friend who is a college lecturer was telling me of his immense frustration with a small group of African students. He is a very interactive teacher and encourages questions and comments, but the African students were very quiet and refused to take part in the repartee.
It was only when the dean of the college spoke privately to these students and assured them that they would not lose face in asking a question of the authority figure, and in fact it was disrespectful for them to remain silent, that they were brave enough to contribute to discussion.
Jesus’ model of culture
Jesus was born into an Eastern culture where shame and honour were important scaffolds in the society. During his short public ministry we see many instances where Jesus honoured people across all walks of life.
One example is the way in which he related to people with disabilities: openly, lovingly and honourably, without causing any shame or condemnation. In many Eastern cultures it is shame on the family if there is a member with a disability.
Jesus did not baulk at approaching cripples, lepers or the demon-possessed. He did not chastise the woman with an issue of blood for being out in public, let alone daring to touch his garment. Instead, apart from healing them he gave them an honour that their community was loathe to give.
Jesus honoured God by living a sinless life. He came to deliver us from our shame. He, who is fully God, became fully man in order to restore us to a relationship with God. Jesus took our shame when He died, and God honoured him when He resurrected him. All who trust in him as their mediator will have their shame removed.
What does this mean for citizenship?
Surely gaining citizenship comes from a desire to belong and to contribute to the adopted country. It is a much bigger issue than just knowing the rules.
There is great encouragement in the fact that God saves those who are weak and have been dishonoured and gives them honour (Zephaniah chapter 3, verse 19).
As people of God, I think we should do no less for each other and for those who choose to become fellow citizens with us. In doing so, we need to understand our own culture and that of others. All this, I think, should be part of being a citizen.
Aira Chilcott B.Sc (Hons), M. Contemp Sci, Cert IV in Christian Ministry and Theology, Cert IV in Training and Evaluation, Grad Dip Ed., began her working life at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, investigating characteristics of cancer cells. Turning to teaching in the Christian school system provided opportunities to learn theology, more science, mission trips and explore the outdoors through bushwalking and other exploits. Now retired, Aira is a panellist for Young Writers and volunteers at a nature park. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html