A Personal Dilemma: Diversity vs. Diversity

Photo from the UK Telegraph

Photo from the UK Telegraph

This is a story of due diligence, mutual deception, and dialogue. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Pretty much my entire life has been dedicated to intercultural competence and diversity issues. It started when I was eleven: my family moved and I became the target of bullying for being “different.” I decided then that I needed to learn how to adapt (“fit in”) to new situations much more nimbly than I was then able to do. So, at twelve, I used my babysitting money to spend a summer abroad in Mexico. That was the first step on a lifelong path.

I am also quite Christian. Open to, respectful, and inclusive of other religions and spiritual practices, by all means—at least in my intentions and ongoing learning process—but in my own life I follow the beliefs rooted in my childhood. I am eternally grateful to my parents for instilling faith in me from a young age. So, I’m a Christian who’s committed to diversity, inclusion, and intercultural competence.

In 1999, when I moved to Kansas City, Kansas, USA, I interviewed various pastors and churches to find the right “fit” for me. I did not want to have any part of a parish culture that was exclusive or righteously judgmental. I was delighted when I found an Episcopal parish with a pastor who swore himself, and his parish, to embracing diversity.

I knew that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church had declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” (1976-A069). I also knew that the Episcopal and Anglican Churches (the Episcopal Church is an offshoot of the Anglican Church and is part of the Anglican Communion) were having a heated internal debate about homosexuality, particularly about whether gays and lesbians should be able to be priests. I vehemently felt they should; this would be the inclusive practice. Thus, I interviewed my pastor about his feelings on this matter. When he told me he heartily agreed with the declaration, I could feel my worry ease.

The parish engaged in extensive domestic and international outreach, and not just the short-term, feel-good kind. We had long-term relationships with a medical center in Haiti and a Diocese in Ghana, with whom we partnered to alleviate hunger, improve health, and develop job skills. Ghana and Haiti were part of the Anglican Church, not the Episcopal Church, but that didn’t matter to me; we were all the same family. At least two Sundays a month our pastor’s sermon included talk about diversity, his desire to include more people of color and lower socio-economic strata in our parish that was located in an upscale, largely white neighborhood.

Things happened that I didn’t like. I remember attending a Bible study group in which the members ganged up on me. They all said that a Christian had to proclaim Jesus as THE ONE AND ONLY Lord and Savior. I said I proclaimed Jesus as MY Lord and Savior, but that I recognized many other paths to God, peace, or enlightenment, as well. I explained that I respected those paths as valid and appropriate for the people who followed them. Members of my study group fervently disagreed, showing me Bible passages to prove I was wrong. They told me I wasn’t a true Christian.

What?! I have been a Christian my entire life, in four countries on three continents, and no one has ever had the gall to tell me that before! How dare they define my spirituality for me!

I spoke to my pastor about it. He apologized. He explained to me that Kansas City was fairly “southern” in its outlook, and that our parish commitment to diversity included people who were more fundamental/literal as well as people who were more liberal in their outlook. He said we are all human, we are all on a developmental journey in this life, and that I should be compassionate.

Okay, I quit the Bible study group. For about three years I was delighted, becoming more and more involved and vested in parish life. I became an active Sunday school teacher, and co-led Vacation Bible School for the kids. I tithed 10% of my earnings, which I knew supported our outreach projects as well as parish upkeep. I attended women’s retreats and study sessions. We had a great time. I absolutely loved my community, and felt I was growing closer to God, becoming more the person He would like me to be on this earth.

Then comes 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop. I was so proud! We had married priests, women priests (I had grown up Catholic, so this was major), and now we could have priests who are variously sexually-oriented as well! I felt joy at such a major step forward for an organization that, like any other, is prone to human failings.

Thus, I was completely blindsided when, in church on Sunday, our pastor announced that we were leaving the Episcopal Church. Huh? Can he do that?! He told us that our parish would be joining the Anglican Church. The reason? He didn’t agree with having a gay bishop, and he said we shouldn’t, either. What???!!!

I obviously made an appointment to speak with the pastor right away on Monday. I was livid. How could he have pledged to me his commitment to diversity, told me he agreed with the Church’s 1976 declaration on LGBT matters, and then do this? How could he take the annual pledge I’d made and just move it without my permission to another Church?

He spoke calmly. He was obviously centered, had prayed on this, and was confident he was doing the right thing. He explained to me that pro-LGBT activities have a western bias. And not just a western bias, but a higher socio-economic class bias as well. He said that in most of Africa, most of Latin America, most of the rest of the world, the Anglican Communion does not want openly gay priests. He told me he still did support the Episcopal Church’s 1976 LGBT declaration. But, he went on to say that that declaration says gays are children of God. In his opinion, gay sex is a sin, so as long as our gay parishioners remain celibate, they remain in God’s good graces. What?! Nearly four years I’ve been learning from this man, and this is what he believes?! I was horrified. He explained to me that it was me, not him, that was failing to honor diversity and inclusion; I was being ethnocentric, with a western and upper-middle-class bias.

I, of course, disagreed. I told him that we, as a society, cannot pick and choose which differences are “acceptable” to us and which are not. I told him I’d be leaving the church. I demanded that my annual tithe be returned to me; my money would most definitely not be used by him to promote this kind of discrimination.

While this personal story is now dated, I decided to write it up after reading a recent article from Canada, “Indigenous bishops say they’ll resist imposition of ‘Western’ cultural values,” about the Anglican Church there. That article really caused me pause. I am devoted to indigenous causes. Back when I was 11 and being bullied, my only friends were Hopi and Diné. They welcomed me, and I will never forget that inclusiveness. So, indigenous people are saying LGBT inclusion is an imposition of western cultural values? That the Church is not heeding their voices? That’s not good. Everyone should be heard, listened to, respected.

Spirituality is a lifelong practice. Cultural competence is also. At this point in my development, I remain committed to the belief that we must be inclusive and respectful of all God’s creatures: human, plant, animal, and Mother Earth. Defending our lack of respect for another by attributing it to “culture” is just not acceptable. Change is difficult; my inability to adapt when my family moved is what got me into the intercultural field in the first place. Change takes time. We must engage in respectful processes, during which we honor and hear one another. Together, we can create a world in which all our unique gifts are honored and utilized.

I welcome your thoughts, insights, and experiences.

Prologue: We here at Cultural Detective are very much wanting to partner with authors on a Cultural Detective Christianity, as well as packages on other spiritual traditions, to accompany our CD Islam and CD Jewish Culture. I would also very much like to see Values Lenses on Fundamentalism/Literalism, and Liberalism/Interpretivism—as a non-expert in divinity studies, I obviously don’t have the correct vocabulary. If you share my passion and do have the vocabulary, please contact us: blog@culturaldetective.com.

Lack of Diversity Correlates with Religious Hostility

world-religious-diversityQuick! What is the most religiously diverse area of the world? Not the Middle East—it’s primarily Muslim, and not Latin America—it’s primarily Christian.

It is, of course, the Asia Pacific region, home to a great diversity of religious traditions including Islam and Christianity, as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and loads more. This is just one interesting tidbit from a report on world religions released this week by the Pew Research Center.

More noteworthy than this fact, however, is that some of the world’s least religiously diverse places are home to the highest rates of social violence involving religion. Of the five countries exhibiting the most religious violence:
  • Afghanistan and Somalia both rank in the bottom ten for religious diversity, with a “Religious Diversity Index” or RDI of 0.1.
  • Pakistan ranks as having “low diversity,” with an RDI of 0.8.
  • India (RDI 4.0) and Israel (RDI 4.5) are ranked as “moderately diverse.”

If diversity indeed correlates with lower violence, that is indeed good news for diversity and pluralism, and a desire to discourage violence and promote inclusion are good reasons to put Cultural Detective Islam and Cultural Detective Jewish Culture to good use! And please, help us create packages for other major world religions! Such tools are especially needed given that the Pew Research studies show huge increases in religious hostilities in nearly every world region.

increase in religious hostilities

How did this finding, correlating the lack of religious diversity and hostility, come about? In December 2012, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life published a report entitled, “The Global Religious Landscape,” based on data gathered in 2010. It found, in part, that:

“Worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group. A comprehensive demographic study of more than 230 countries and territories … estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.”

01_groupsThen, in January 2014 Pew published the results of another study in its article, “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” It involved data on 198 countries:

“A third (33%) of the countries and territories in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas.”

socialHostilitiesJust this month, April 4, 2014, the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world, published further analysis that it conducted on the 2010 data. They produced a very interesting index that ranks each country by its level of religious diversity—its RDI, or “Religious Diversity Index.” RDI was calculated based on the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to the eight major religious groups defined by Pew. The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on the 10-point index.

To quote from the report,

“In order to have data that were comparable across many countries, the study focused on five widely recognized world religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism—that collectively account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s population. The remainder of the global population was consolidated into three additional groups: the religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular); adherents of folk or traditional religions (including members of African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions); and adherents of other religions (such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism).”

This, of course, means that diversity within these larger religious sub-groups was not examined.

Linking the findings from phase two (social hostility) and phase three (religious diversity) shows the correlation between lack of religious diversity and social hostility.

I would emphasize that the link between lack of religious diversity and increased social violence does not appear to be a finding reported by Pew Research. Rather, it is an observation written by Emma Green in The Atlantic. The top five—and many others—of the most socially hostile countries do indeed have lower RDIs. However, there are countries with low religious diversity that also show low ratings for religious hostility: Namibia, Marshall Islands, Malta, Kiribati, Cambodia, Djibouti, Lesotho, and Grenada among them.

The research is definitely worth reading. The overall increase in religious hostility is driven by certain types of hostility, including abuse of religious minorities, harassment of women over religious dress, violence to enforce religious norms, mob violence related to religion, and religion-related terrorist violence. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Emma Green ends her article with an interesting thought:

“It may not be true everywhere, but these data suggest something remarkable: Religious pluralism can be, and often is, compatible with peaceful societies.”

What do you think? What is your experience? What successful efforts have you seen to bridge religious differences and increase tolerance and respect?

Respect for All Spiritual Traditions

Our belief systems, particularly our spiritual beliefs and traditions, are increasingly important dimensions of culture. We must be able to bridge religious and spiritual differences if we are to live together in a collaborative, inclusive, respectful world. Yet this dimension is far too often overlooked and shortchanged in the intercultural literature.

Today, in this blog post, I offer up a few quotes that speak to me about this topic. It is my hope that taking a few moments to reflect might help each of us better do our part to promote inter-religious understanding.

We are fortunate that so many schools of divinity, congregations, spiritual communities and ecumenical groups use Cultural Detective to promote tolerance, understanding and respect. I’d welcome hearing from any of you about the efforts in which you’re engaged. Please, also, share with us quotes on this topic that speak to you.

“Impiety: Your irreverance toward my deity.”
—Ambrose Bierce

“When political conflict is religionized, it is absolutized.”
—Jonathan Saks

“Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.”
—William Butler Yeats

“So many Gods, so many creeds; so many paths that wind and wind; when just the art of being kind is all this sad world needs.”
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The joke (instead of a proverb) in Cultural Detective Jewish Culture that illustrates the value of “group solidarity” (CLASSIC cross-cultural miscommunication; enjoy!):

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He’d have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy; if the Pope won, they’d have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged and wise rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the Rabbi spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they agreed that it would be a ‘silent’ debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.
The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.
The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.
The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten, saying that the Rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay in Italy.

Later the cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened. The Pope said, ‘First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only One God common to both our beliefs. Then I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He bested me at every move, and I could not continue.’

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the Rabbi how he’d won. ‘I haven’t a clue,’ the Rabbi said. ‘First, he told me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he told me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I told him that we were staying right here.’
‘And then what?’ asked a woman.
‘Who knows?’ said the Rabbi. ‘He took out his lunch so I took out mine.”

Infographics on World Cultures and Immigration Trends

Our world is swimming in information, so much so that we often drown in it and find it difficult to make sense of. That’s why infographics play such a valuable role. Recently I’ve come across two different sets that I thought Cultural Detectives might be interested in seeing and using (or making your own for your own purposes).

Borrowing heavily from a concept by Danish designer Peter Orntoft, the Millward Brown Agency designed the two infographics below that put data in context. Interesting, no? More memorable than otherwise?

Photo by Millward Brown

Photo by Millward Brown

Secondly, Lam Thuy Vo of USA’s National Public Radio (NPR) created two graphics which clearly make the point that immigrants comprise about the same percentage of the US population as they did 100 years ago, though their geographic origins have changed.

Graphic by Lam Thuy Vo of USA’s National Public Radio (NPR)

Graphic by Lam Thuy Vo of USA’s National Public Radio (NPR)

Do you use infographics in your work? Please share! Have you created any? Strikes me that interculturalists could sure use this terrific approach to creating and communicating meaning.

Watch Out! What a Values Lens is—and is Not!

Our users love Cultural Detective‘s Values Lenses. Many of them even call our toolset “Cultural Detective Lenses” rather than “the Cultural Detective Series.”

Customers tell us they use Values Lenses to:

  • Quickly build recognition that cultures are, indeed, different.
  • Establish credibility that these tools and their facilitation are effective.
  • Supplement—amplify and deepen—the analysis of a critical incident, or better understand a personal life event.
  • Reflect on ways in which they have become who they are by overlaying national, gender, generational, religious tradition or sexual orientation Lenses with Personal Lenses.
  • Contrast their “home culture” Lens with that of a new culture to predict where there might be synergy and resonance, as well as potential difficulties or challenges.
  • Learn to focus on the things that make a difference, to observe and respect deep culture, rather than becoming preoccupied with dos and don’ts.
  • Empower members of their organization to explain their culture(s) to others. Though they may not individually hold the values on the culture’s Lens, the Lens enables them to explain the larger society’s tendencies in ways that help newcomers to be successful.

All of this is fine and good, except that Values Lenses scare the bejeebers out of me!

Ever since publishing Ecotonos back in the early nineties, I’ve said that publishing a tool is like launching a child out into the world: products, like children, take on lives of their own. They do not always do what their parents or creators might have intended. Tools serve certain purposes and not others. Tools can be used expertly or misused.

Since Values Lenses can be such powerful tools, they can also be dangerous tools when misused. Thus the reason for this post. We want to make sure you understand how to use Values Lenses appropriately, and help us keep them from being used counterproductively.

So, what are Values Lenses? And what are they not?

  • Values Lenses summarize the top five to seven core values or general tendencies of a group of people, a culture. They do not apply to individuals within a culture, and the values have a complex influence on sub-cultures of the Lens culture.
  • They illustrate how members of a culture tend to see the world—looking out through the Lens, and how a culture tends to influence its members—like sun shining in through the colors of the Lens. It is important to remember it is “tend to,” not “always do.” Context is key.
  • They capture the ideal and actual aspects of a culture, intention and perception, positive and negative, yin and yang. A Lens both illustrates the values that members of a culture aspire to, and some ways in which the expression of those values might be negatively perceived by those who don’t share them. A Values Lens is a starting point for inquiry; it does not contain every value held by every member of a culture.
  • Values Lenses are tools for discovery and dialogue, clues that may give us an idea about what makes people tick. They are not yet another “box” into which to stereotype people!

Values Lenses can be extremely effective tools, and they are a key component of the Cultural Detective Method. Remember, however, that it is the process of using the Cultural Detective Worksheet that is fundamental to the Cultural Detective approach.

We’d love to hear your ideas and techniques for helping others learn through the use of Cultural Detective Values Lenses! Let us know how you are creatively applying Values Lenses in your life—personally and/or professionally.

“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.

With Love, from War-torn Syria

On my second day in Damascus, I moved in with Noura and her family, only to find out that … they themselves have just miraculously escaped from their home town, Homs – the city that is being bombarded and torn apart by civil unrest!

Her brother has gone to school only 30 days this year. They were trapped in their house for two weeks without electricity. Each time they go to the grocery they are uncertain of ever being able to come back. Leaving their only source of income – an internet café – behind, the single mom and her two children have been struggling to avoid falling apart. With very limited resources, this refugee family has been hosting me, feeding me, loving me, giving me a bed, and escorting me to all sorts of sightseeing places that a tourist is supposed to visit. And all that amidst tears, fear, sadness, worries and uncertainty about their future.
In this picture, Noura and I are under the hooded cloaks, visiting Umayad Mosque, one of the earliest mosques in Islam, built on the 3000 year old remains of an Aramean temple. The worship site was turned into a Roman temple, later converted to a Christian church, and finally was dedicated to Islam in 636 (only four years after the death of Prophet Mohammad). The rich history of this mosque reminds us that holy sites should not be seen as the monopoly of one religion, and that we are the result of an accumulated heritage.

Looking at the chaos in some of the Arab countries right now, I can’t help wishing those various branches of Islam could understand this simple notion. And may the extremely hospitable people of their countries, like Noura’s family, teach them the lesson of co-existence, even in time of harshness.