In two weeks, I will be speaking at a retreat for a multicultural congregation where I will be a minority. The theme for the weekend is “Caring for self and others in the way of Jesus.” As I discussed the content with the planning team, I mentioned Brené Brown’s content around shame and vulnerability. A little later, one of the retreat facilitators let me know that it would be important for me to define what I mean by shame as many will have a different cultural concept of the term and may miss my meaning altogether if not explained. “Oh, good to know,” I said. For a moment I considered not using the term so I would not confuse the hearers. After thinking it over further I realized I need not shy away but rather, if the content calls for it, do exactly what the facilitator mentioned. Help people understand by saying out loud exactly what I mean, acknowledging how the term varies by context and culture.
As I prepare for the upcoming retreat, which includes facilitating a panel of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds as my final session, I am acutely aware of the reality that I am doing cross-cultural work and need to posture myself as a learner. Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map is a right-on-time guide as I navigate this upcoming experience as well as my long-term focus of empowering women, particularly women of color.
While reading The Culture Map I thought of friends and cohort members who live abroad and the experiences over the last two years in South Africa and Hong Kong. More than anything, I think back to my first cross-cultural experiences in Mexico and Ethiopia and the blunders I made, considering myself, as a US citizen as more intelligent and wealthier than the people I encountered. I think of my own pride and the charity I offered. Since that time, I have learned that my perceptions, cognitions, and actions were askew. My Western cultural assumptions were often on the opposite end of the scale as those I encountered.
In Meyer’s text the reader will find an eight-scale model outlined throughout eight chapters including communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling to help people from all cultures to navigate work and relationships well. Part of me wishes I would have read this text before I ever traveled. And yet, attempting to live with no regrets, I take it all as education for the journey and valuable information for future encounters.
Meyer is clear about what she expects the learner to gain from The Culture Map. “Cultural patterns of behavior and belief frequently impact our perceptions (what we see), cognitions (what we think), and actions (what we do). The goal of this book is to help you improve your ability to decode these three facets of culture and to enhance your effectiveness in dealing with them.”
While there were many times I recognized the US perception right away, I was more interested in understanding what to do when multiple cultures come together. What do we do when more than two cultures are represented? Who do we defer to? How do we communicate in ways that are effective for all people in the space? In particular, I am considering the growing diversity of the US. This is one of the main reasons why I chose the Leadership and Global Perspectives program. While I love traveling and understanding other cultures, I recognize that the US is home for me and is growing ever more diverse. How do I relate both locally and globally to people who are culturally and ethnically different from me?
I was glad to see that toward the end of a few chapters Meyer addressed how to handle a mixed group of people. For each of the eight scales of the model Meyer presents, she has unique answers to guide not only cross-cultural engagement but also multicultural practice. For instance, in the first chapter on communication she remarks, “What matters is not so much the absolute positioning of a person’s culture on a particular scale, but rather their relative positioning in comparison to you.” Meyer does not comment on multi-cultural engagement in every chapter but she does make a particular note at the end of the chapter on leadership that monocultural verses multicultural engagement should be considered carefully. There are many obstacles that present themselves in a multicultural setting. She cautions, “think carefully about your larger objectives before you mix cultures up. If your goal is innovation or creativity, the more cultural diversity the better, as long as the process is managed carefully. But if your goal is simple speed and efficiency, then monocultural is probably better than multicultural.”
In my research with the church, I am finding churches are growing to highly value being multicultural. In some ways, it is becoming trendy and I wonder how deeply rooted is their ecclesiology. But in many more ways, diversity is the way of the kingdom of God and is modeled throughout Scripture, particularly in Paul’s church planting practices throughout the New Testament. With regard to Meyer’s statement of caution, one question that has struck me is, are churches who value diversity of cultures also churches who value innovation and creativity? Do the two go together? It seems that they must but it would be worth researching more. As I study equity and belonging of women and women of color, I wonder again, do churches need to be more open to creativity and different ways of being and doing than are typical?
From the experiences I am having with planning retreats and beginning to work on a doctoral project that directly engages people who are of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, I see my own ways of doing things are being challenged and I am innovating to accommodate voices not always heard. For example, I just purchased the book Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing our Influence by Natalia Kohn, Noemi Vega Quińones and Kristy Garza Robinson. Each chapter highlights one biblical woman alongside the stories of Latina women, encouraging them to lead from within their culture. The Hermanas are opening my eyes to a Latina reading and application of Scripture.
As a final thought on cross-cultural engagement, I received a handout by Pauline Fong, a program director of the Murdock Charitable Trust, to help people easily and appropriately engage other cultures. I have included Fong’s handout here.
 Meyer, Erin. The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. New York: Public Affairs, 2014, 16.
 Meyer, 36.
 Meyer, 82.