“Belief Holding” as an Intercultural Competence – Religious less motivated by compassion

Frequently and for many years I have cited Milton Rokeach’s The Open and Closed Mind when people ask me about intercultural competence. In this book he talks about the importance of holding beliefs tentatively and situationally instead of imposing them on or expecting them of others.

“A closed way of thinking could be associated with any ideology regardless of content. It includes an authoritarian outlook on life, an intolerance towards those with opposing beliefs, and a sufferance of those with similar beliefs.”

According to this line of thinking, open-minded people may hold their beliefs firmly and strongly, but they also respect others’ rights to believe something different. They believe their path is right for them, but they do not believe it is necessarily the one and only path for everyone on the planet. “It is not so much what you believe that counts, but how you believe,” Rokeach tells us.

In our current age of heightened religious and nationalistic fervor, “belief holding” or “permeability of beliefs” seems more important than ever. As do religious or spiritual beliefs as dimensions of culture and cross-cultural interaction.

In this context, today I read the headline, “Highly Religious Less Motivated by Compassion.” Oh dear. I read on to find out that it is the key finding of social psychologists at the University of California Berkeley, who have conducted three separate studies since 2004 on a largely US American sample.

“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help a person or not. The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

Perhaps it is time for all of us who coach, train, or educate on the topic of intercultural communication to remember this important competence, which was first published back in 1960.