We nearly always approach those who are different to us with hesitation and withhold our trust and vulnerability from them. Whilst occasionally this is wise, it is also often rooted in our assumption that our beliefs and way of doing things is ‘right’ and that which is different is either confusing (and thus we are wary) or it is downright ‘wrong’. This became clear to me this morning when reading a book by Duane Elmer titled, Cross-Cultural Connections. In it, Elmer writes about the experiences of people when going into another culture. He provides this diagram:
At first glance, the diagram a bit overwhelming. The crux of it, I think, is to emphasise how the ‘approach’ we take not with people of other cultures or sub-cultures results in either relationship building or relationship breakdown. This is no only true of how we relate to people of other cultures, but also people who posit different political opinions, are of a different religion or sexual orientation, and others’ communicative behaviour. When our initial approach to those who are different to us is with fear, suspicion, and inflexibility, it no doubt results in us criticizing them, rationalising their behaviour, and withdrawing from them in order to cope with our feelings of frustration, confusion, tension, and embarassment. This in turn results in our feeling alienated and isolated.
When seeing this diagram this morning, I was struck by it. And not only because I love diagrams like most women love George Cloony. I was struck by it because I realised that I approach so many people in my life who have conservative views (in constrast with my more liberal leanings) with fear and suspicion. And I thought, ‘Shit. This is why I am so critical and withdraw so often from conservative people.’ The problem is, this isn’t just strangers on the street, but certain members of my own family. I need to approach them differently lest our relationship remain tense. They aren’t going to hurt me, so I can approach them with trust and openness to their opinions. Yeah, I will likely still disagree with them, but the aim isn’t agreeance – it’s unity. Unity amidst our differences. If I observe, listen, and enquire, I will then end up understanding them and building a stronger relationship with them, rather than criticizing them as a result of my own uninformed rationalized assmptions about why they believe and act they way that they do.
The most acute and sadly convicting realisation I came to regarding this is the prejudice that I have towards people of other classes. I was raised in an upper-middle class family in one of the most caucasian, and moderately wealthy suburbs of Melbourne. I had limited interactions with those of lower socio-economic classes, cultures, or with people who didn’t have liberal left-wing worldviews. After moving to regional Victoria, there are low socio-economic-status (SES) people everywhere and frankly, I have no idea what to make of them. I have never been closely exposed to the worldviews or behaviours of Australian lows SES people. If I am honest, I have sinfully taken the fear, suspicion, and inflexibility appproach more often than not. I don’t want to take that route anymore. When I am in another country, I have no problem taking the ‘openness, acceptance, and trust’ approach. But in my own, it is actually difficult to move on from fear and suspicion – perhaps because I suppose that because we live in the same country, and they are Australian, they ought to act how I do. I ought to realise the drastic differences that sub-cultures have and begin to approach people of all classes with openness, acceptance, and trust. To do anything less, when I have the ability to do more, is sin. I need to open, trusting, and accepting of the values and behaviours of low SES people. As followers of Christ we are called to bring relational unity between people (and God) – hence Jesus’ overwhelming emphasis on forgiveness. We cannot unite with people and form an understanding and rapport with them if we do not approach them with openness and acceptance. Granted, tthose whom we are suspicious and fearful of may approach us the same way. This is no excuse not to begin to approach them differently. As Michael Jackson would say, it starts “with the man [or woman] in the mirror.”
Featured Image taken from: https://www.blickamabend.ch/news/uebermuetter-komm-her-ich-sorg-fuer-dich-id3192766.html