The Progression In My Train Of Thought Elmers Book On Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution


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This is just a personal review tracing where I have come from regarding my own awareness of cross-cultural differences over the last 25 years.

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The Progression In My Train Of Thought Elmers Book On Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution

  1. 1. THE PROGRESSION IN MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT by Lisa Anderson-Umana BS Penn State University, 1982 Master’s in Educational Ministries, Wheaton College Graduate School, 1994 (double space to put educational credencials) PRE-CLASS ASSIGNMENT- ELMER’S BOOK Submitted to the faculty in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Deerfield, Illinois December 2007
  2. 2. CONTENTS THE PROGRESSION IN MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 First stop: Simple Curiosity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Second stop: I should know this. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Third stop: Ignorance is not bliss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Fourth stop: Three-dimensional viewing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Unresolved question . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 iii
  3. 3. THE PROGRESSION IN MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT First stop: Simple curiosity My initial response to this whole issue has been curiosity. Ever since I started serving in Latin America in 1983 I have been intrigued by the cultural differences as exemplified by the following anecdote. Elmer’s anecdote regarding asking for directions in a foreign country transported me back to Mexico City in 1983, although my line of reasoning differed a bit: (a) They did not know how to give directions; (b) They did not know the names of the streets because as pedestrians, they guided themselves by landmarks; (c) They did not own a map much less know how to read one and here I was with map in hand asking directions using the official “street names, which by the way, changed every block in order to honor as many heroes and dignitaries as possible.” In conclusion, I grew very astute at reading the body language of when they did not know and I would ask three different people directions and then average out their answers to arrive at the best approximate! Second stop: I should know this. Ten years on the field should result in a good accumulation of cultural insights. However, not if your attitude is “I am doing pretty good as a missionary, I do not really need to use my credits at Wheaton’s Master’s program to study missions and culture, 1
  4. 4. 2 it’s better to focus on educational philosophy and pedagogy. After all, my role is director of training so it behooves me to study that! Almost by accident just weeks before I graduated from Wheaton and returned to Latin America Duane Elmer let me read the manuscript of his book (1993). My memory of my first reading of this book was that it contained a list of good approaches for conflict resolution. In light of this book, I even changed one of our counselor training textbooks to enlarge the list of conflict resolution approaches to a total of four: confrontation, mediator, the one-down position, storytelling and proverbs. As a typical Westerner the text had only listed “direct confrontation” as the only Biblical method for resolving conflicts between camp staff, counselors and campers. Third stop: Ignorance is not bliss The work team members listened to me with their mouths open wide, incredulity was evident in their expressions: “I cannot believe I have been so clueless all these years. How is it possible that I never learned this? Did I think I would pick it up by osmosis, in virtue of being married to a Honduran? Let me tell you, team, I am ashamed to admit it but when I read Livermore’s book (2006), Serving with eyes wide open: Doing short- term missions with cultural intelligence, I scored myself incredibly low in cultural intelligence (my husband corroborated my worse fears by agreeing with my score). We can do better than that during the next ten-days so let us start by participating in a cultural observation activity at Central Park….” I was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past so together with both the North American and Latin leaders we spent time observing one another and reflecting on what we were learning.
  5. 5. 3 Fourth stop: Three-dimensional viewing With the second reading of Elmer’s book, I discovered that I was not quite as enlightened as I thought I was! I had conveniently overlooked including in the textbook for camp counselor training the methods of conflict resolution of inaction, misdirection, silence and indefinite persons. The omission is significant in that up to this point I did not consider them to be Biblical, desirable, or even legitimate means of resolving conflict. It was not that I was unaware of their existence, one trip to any governmental office in Latin America will give you a book’s worth of anecdotes! The problem lay in that I had not yet grasped this truth: “our God can be properly revealed only through diversity” (Elmer, 1993, 13). Why does this stop represent for me a three dimensional one? Because as admonished by Elmer, I must add to my cultural lenses (which cannot be physically removed since they are also God’s gift to me), the cultural lenses of the local people with whom I work. To which I would include the need for us to add God’s Biblical lenses, which combined would give us a 3-D perspective. How has my understanding about myself and about Latin Americans grown? “What should I do with the fact that the guard in charge of the parking lot is charging me money in order for him not to tell one of the other apartment owner’s that I ran into his car?” “Did you run into his car?” I queried. “Not that I know of but I cannot be sure. I might have. But it is wrong for him to be bribing me,” my fellow missionary responded. Eager to try out my new found focus to do critical thinking (my first class at Trinity) on cross-cultural issues (my second class at Trinity), we began to try and figure out what both cultures’ assumptions and values are. She quickly drew the conclusion that he was
  6. 6. 4 dishonest and wanted to make a quick buck and that is what galled her the most. I tried to open up another perspective: What is the value of having a parking lot guard that is on your side, compared to one that is very upset with you? She hated the thought of “being taken” but soon realized that another value, her harmonious relationships with the others in the apartment complex, was in play. She confessed that up until that point she had never considered that there was another side to the story. Where I perceive greatest growth on my part is in the progression noted from when I started missions with a posture of superficial curiosity to where I am now, which is a posture of detained study which impacts my daily affairs. No longer is my concern just enlarging my “bag of tricks” of resolution methods from one to eight but rather attributing value to the differences I see all around me. For example: I discussed with my husband how to reduce the time spent in the buffet line while waiting to be served, when he pointed out that people attended the meeting to talk with others and fellowship therefore the length of the wait would be of no concern to them. The fact that Elmer grounds his entire book and its thrust to the core doctrine of unity compels me to place a much higher priority on resolving conflict, since it is directly related to people’s coming to Christ. When I shared this premise with my Salvadorian friend Rixy, she commented: This moves it from the realm of “it would be nice” to “it is imperative for God’s glory not to be veiled” that we resolve this conflict. In further discussion with Rixy she and I observed that one’s temperament may incline you to react a certain way when experiencing disequilibrium or conflict. A choleric’s or sanguine’s first choice may be the “win-lose strategy” of conflict resolution; whereas the melancholic may prefer avoidance and the phlegmatic might be inclined to give
  7. 7. 5 in. As we realized what our tendencies are, we understood the need to use other strategies as well as broaden our response styles. As we reviewed our long standing friendship we discovered patterns to our sin and error. Given our temperaments, our use of power and our drive to win, we could almost predict areas of conflict. Verbatim Rixy and I practiced the principles and rules for dealing with conflict in the last chapter of Elmer’s (1993) book, reaping the fruit of a strengthened friendship and setting precedent not just for us but for how we will purpose to deal with other relational conflicts and teach others to do likewise.
  8. 8. 6 Unresolved question As I understand it the creation of different languages and thus people groups was part of the Fall, even God’s curse at the Tower of Babel, was it not? That Biblical incident juxtaposes with the truth that “God cannot be adequately revealed in a creation of similarities” (Elmer, 1993, 24) which lends itself to believe the diversity of languages and people groups was God’s original idea, not part of the Fall. How does one understand God’s move to diversify language and people groups at the Tower of Babel?
  9. 9. REFERENCES Elmer, Duane. 1993. Cross-culural conflict: Building relationships for effective ministry. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. Livermore, David. 2006. Serving with eyes open: Doing short-term missions with cultural intelligence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. 7