DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Funniest Book This Year

Written by: on February 1, 2019

Funniest Book I’ve Read, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures.[1]

Humour comes in many forms, but the best experience of it is unexpected. This week I will unpack my experience of Cultural Mapping through the stories of two Americans, a group of Asians and the tragic tale of a seventeen-year-old girl.

You have to love Americans. By and large they are positive, filled with self-assurance, have an opinion on just about anything, and they are always happy to share that opinion with anyone who has ears. I realise that’s a massive generalisation, but generalisations point to a general truth, so I’m comfortable with the anecdotal observation. However, it is a problem for Americans working in New Zealand. I ministered with an Americo-Los-Angelean (is that a word?) Baptist pastor some years ago who almost lost his mind working in New Zealand churches. He said to me,

“In America, you know you’re doing well because people tell you all the time. When the positive reinforcement stops, you know you’re heading into a storm. In New Zealand, the opposite is true, no news is the very best news. The only time Kiwi’s comment is when they aren’t happy.”

He didn’t survive his New Zealand ministry. Though he was Americo-typical from a New Zealand perspective, he had to too much sun on the Pacific Coast of the States and tended to be a little sensitive to the lack of personal encouragement. But that wasn’t the case for the New Yorker who came to New Zealand a couple of years later. He had the same general demeanour as Mr Sunshine, but when emotionally threatened he turned in to Rocky Balboa and sounded just a touch like him too. He was actually a great guy, and I liked him. Unfortunately, he didn’t last too long either. Unlike Mr Sunshine from California, he didn’t leave the country feeling miserable, he left because the ‘closed fist counselling method’ isn’t well appreciated in this part of the world.

I now move to the Asian population. Often considered by the less-well-travelled as, ‘all the same’, nothing could be further from the truth. A couple of churches back I was the senior pastor of a Baptist church with three congregations, one of which was Mandarin speaking and we employed a Mandarin speaking associate pastor. It transpired that congregation would be one of my most complex leadership tasks. Apart from all speaking Mandarin, there were few cultural similarities. The congregation was small at around one hundred people but made up of folk from north and south China, Macau and Hong Kong. Then there were those from Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia. Mandarin was their trade language, but most had home languages that were dialectally and often linguistically different from each other, along with cultural nuances that were enough to unleash war. Even more exciting, they didn’t much like each other. All their countries of origin had bad history and despite the generations that have past that history wasn’t far from the surface. Even though the associate pastor was the pastoral leader, no decision could be agreed up until I turned. I heard the arguments, thought deeply, agreed with a position and it was settled. But that couldn’t happen with the associate. I had no idea what I was doing. So, I met with an individual from each cultural background and asked them to explain how communities worked, leadership was exercised and the main struggles they had in New Zealand. It was eye opening, stretching, challenging, and very helpful in broadening my understanding of how complex and powerful human culture is. I think it was the missiologist and theologian, Leslie Newbigin, who remarked, ‘in India, if you scratch the skin of a Christian, you’ll find a Hindu lurking beneath. In London, if you scratch the skin of a Christian, you’ll find a secular humanist just beneath the surface.’ (can’t remember the location).

Now for the seventeen-year-old girl. In this case, my daughter. I titled this post, The Funniest Book I’ve Read, because as I was reading it I was mired in a cultural experience so painful, so confusing, and so debilitating that I have run out of adjectives to describe it. Our house suffered ‘daughtergeddon’. To this day, I have no idea what happened and probably never will. There was gnashing of teeth, tears, accusations of controlling parents (which is absolutely true of course), the need for independence, respect, privacy, and on the list went. But of course, this defcon reducing event also involved a mother and wife, and I was very aware that no matter which way this meltdown went, I was already in trouble. I can’t remember which chapter of Meyers book I was in, but it had something to do with scales of cultural mapping. So, in the midst of our drama, I thought (my first big mistake) I would offer some wisdom to my wife (second massive mistake) from the book (third huge mistake) from the scale below. It was intended tongue-in-cheek to reveal how teenagers could also be placed on the cultural map too. I suggested that we were in a high context, confrontational, relationally based, hierarchical moment, and that we were all in different places on the map. I found the book to be rather funny at that moment. No one else did. Go figure. So, I then proceed to take a bit of control (fourth unforgivable mistake). I thought (I did it again) I would take a linear approach to navigating the problems one at a time, which would help untangle the issues and that this straight forward and clear way of thinking and communication would inevitably lead to peace and harmony. Nope. I was riding on a delusional highway to happiness while my daughter was still stuck on the emotional edge of spaghetti junction.

It might sound awful, but this book is now the funniest I have read this year. Every time I pick it up now, I just laugh at my own incomprehensible stupidity. I have navigated all sorts of cultural leadership quagmires over the years, but I still cannot fathom the linguistically confounding socio-biology of the teenage culture. As it stands, inasmuch as the map below is helpful, I still don’t know where to put my daughter, my wife, or myself.

That’s all I have to write about this book, or this week.

Figure 1[2]

 

[1] Erin Meyer. The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures. (New York: PublicAffairs, 2016), Kindle Edition

[2] Erin Meyer, “Eight-Scale Tool for Mapping Cultural Differences,” South China Morning Post, 23 May 2014, Accessed 31 January, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/business/economy/article/1518529/mapping-global-cultural-differences-offers-advantages-business.

 

Bibliography

Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures. New York: PublicAffairs, 2016. Kindle Edition

———. “Eight-Scale Tool for Mapping Cultural Differences.” Last modified 24 May 2014, Accessed 31 January, 2019. https://www.scmp.com/business/economy/article/1518529/mapping-global-cultural-differences-offers-advantages-business.

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

19 responses to “Funniest Book This Year”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Bravo! Post of the year!

  2. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Wait – I thought that just the middle school years with daughters are tough (12-14) and that we are about to exit them as she heads into high school this fall. They continue?! If you do get teenage culture mapped will you please email it to me?

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Sorry, there is no map. Done it twice now, but this is the first female adventure. I’m not sure you need a map, but you do need some of the tools found in the book. However, the mixture of hormones and emotions mean your main tools are patience, a sense of humour, tenacity and deep trust that, despite the often convincing arguments about how wrong you are, you probably aren’t.

    • mm Dan Kreiss says:

      You’re just getting started!! 🙂

  3. Do they have cultural GPSs yet. That’s what I’m waiting for.

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Oh how I remember those days. They do pass and you are absolutely right teenage girls are a subculture all their own. Understandably the funniest book of the year!

  5. Mario Hood says:

    Great post. You seem to fit the description of an outlier in your own culture :).

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Digby, I fail to appreciate the humor of your post and I concur with your thoughtful, spiritual, gracious and helpful plan of action. I wonder if I am missing something?

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Hi Harry. That’s precisely the point of my post Harry, appreciation is complex, whether it be for cultures you think you understand, cultures you are pretty sure don’t, and then of course, the worldview differences right on our back doorstep – our children. I wondered who would get it and who wouldn’t – it’s by no means an issue of intelligence or even understanding, it’s simply cultural nuance that often leads to confusion. What I think is hilarious, others will find rather confusing, moving or inappropriate. At its most basic, that’s the point of the book, cultural miscommunication is confronting, but manageable, and the book provides some good ways to manage it. Your saying that you didn’t appreciate my humour was the first way of attending to miscommunication – so thanks. Appreciated. Blessings

  7. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    As the only woman in a house full of boys/men, I feel like this may be my experience soon as well.

  8. mm Mary Mims says:

    The Cultural Map takes a dramatic turn when the teen hits the mid-twenties. You just have to follow the course until then. Good luck!

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Done it twice with two boys – now in their mid-twenties. This time we are travelling the female version of the same journey and it’s very different. I am wondering what the difference is between cultural miscommunication and generation – I’m not entirely convinced there is much difference at all.

  9. mm Sean Dean says:

    Have you ever seen a compass that is losing its magnetism? It kind of spins around, stopping occasionally to point in a random direction. I’m fairly certain this is the best explanation for teenage emotions. This makes the task of mapping them impossible. Best possible solution, grab a beer and enjoy the ride – which sounds like exactly what you did after a few (or 4) slip-ups. Eventually they’ll find magnetic north again. Good on you for having a sense of humor about it.

  10. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Digby, this was great! What an excellent case study of real-time cross-cultural communication. 🙂

  11. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Digby,

    I know we are not even in the same cohort and I don’t make a habit of doing extra reading but your title captured me. Having just read Meyer as well I could not understand why you thought it was funny. Now I understand. I think I learned a similar lesson somewhere during my first year, that was; “don’t try to be the smart guy by applying your new knowledge to your family that doesn’t really think you’re all that smart.” Unfortunately, I’m still learning that one. PS. I really miss NZ culture and feel much more at home there than I do here even after all these years.

  12. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you brother Digby for your inspiring article on this subject. you are always amazing me. I am always facing such challenges in my ministry of the Friends Church here in Africa. Conflicts are always arising due to cultural differences and assumptions and perceptions by members from different communities with Africa and to in addition an america staff. Meyer’s book has presented a recipe on dealing with different world cultures. We are a culture community by nature.

  13. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Do you reckon that each culture could trace some sporadic line that would indicate how teenagers differentiate themselves from common culture? Or is there some common line they track that brings them together before re-differentiate? I ask after having accompanied my son to the International Children’s games last year which is like Olympics for teens. Nothing crosses cultural boundaries like emotionality and hormones.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      I have no idea. I wonder if the common trait is the need to be different from the previous generation, and in the individuation process, the confusion of communication is the imperfect understanding of the values every new generation wants to have that will be different or better. In reality not much changes, but there are nuance shifts that change culture over time. Throw a few hormones in the mix and it can be a rollower coaster ride. We have navigated the journey with two boys and survived, but now we are doing it with the girl – yeehaa.

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