CQ – How are we different? Part One – An Introduction to Culture

Up to this point, I have talked about what Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is, why we need it, and how to start developing it in ourselves. Once again, CQ is the capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts(national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.)

In my last blog, I talked about cultural humility and the need to “focus on the otherthe other person from another culture is the expert and has the answers. I am here to learn from that person, to focus on that person. I ask questions instead providing answers. It’s a lifelong process and attitude of growing instead of focus on an end product. Cultural humility encourages us to look at our own biases, to self-reflect regularly on our attitudes toward the other. I come to the other person with modesty and with a courteous respect for that person and culture.”

But where do our biases come from? Why do we have to think about the others in our life? Aren’t we all just the same? I don’t know about you, but I disagree with people. I even disagree with my husband sometimes! (GASP!) And where do those disagreements come from? I could go in to a lot of detail about that. However, I won’t today nor in the immediate future.

Instead, I want to take the time to start a series about cultural dimensions. These are areas where cultures differ. One isn’t right and the other wrong. They are just different. Before we understand cultural dimensions, though, we need to understand what culture means.

Here is a definition of culture: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

What kinds of things are a part of your culture? Nitza Hidalgo mentions three different levels of culture:

Concrete: surface level, food, festivals, clothes, music

Behavioral: language, gender roles, family structure, politics (how you view leadership, communication (specific or not), etc.

Symbolic: values and beliefs, religion, worldview

The iceberg is a metaphor often used to explain culture. You have probably seen this before or something similar. When we look at an iceberg related to culture, at the top of the iceberg is what we see and experience with our senses, the concrete culture. The food, clothes, music, etc. Much of the behavior we experience comes from what we cannot see, what which is just below the surface, the Behavioral Culture, what this picture calls cultural values and assumptions. Down deep, though, is the Symbolic Culture. I would add to the “individual personality” things such as our cultural rules about relationships, virtue and vice, worldview, and religious beliefs, which do indeed affect our culture. It’s the ideas, beliefs, mannerisms in our culture that “go without saying.”

As we teach our young children, there are things that we just automatically teach without realizing it is a part of our culture. We teach our 2-year-old grandson about not standing while eating and chewing with his mouth closed and other such “manners.” Those ideas become what “goes without saying” in our culture.

To understand what makes things different from us is to learn about the other person, with an attitude of cultural humility, where she or he comes from, and how those pieces of culture that are different are things we can learn from. Not judge. Learn from. And to learn from the other person, it is helpful to understand the different cultural dimensions. Next week we will start in and take one set of ideas per week.


Cultural Intelligence – How do we get there? Knowledge Part One

Once we develop our drive and motivation, we need to grow in our KNOWLEDGE of the “others” around us. Are we ready to ask good questions to truly learn about those around us who may be or look different? Or act or think differently? Who are those in our community that are different from us? What do we need to learn about them to help us gain empathy and understanding for them?

CQ Knowledge (cognition) is your understanding about how cultures are similar and different. Individuals with high CQ Knowledge have a rich, well-organized understanding of culture and how it affects the way people think and behave.

When starting to learn about another culture, it is important to recognize there are differences. Things can be quite different. And they may even seem weird to us from our perspective. But someone else might think the way I do things is weird. It’s all about perspective.

To get an idea of perspectives being different instead of weird, watch this video.

An iceberg is often used as a metaphor to explain culture. What we see in a culture is the top of the iceberg, the CONCRETE or SURFACE/BEHAVIORAL culture.Cultural-Iceberg-2This will include things such as food, music, dress, and language. What you can observe and experience in a culture.

Much of the cultural dimensions, things such as individualism vs collectivism and power distance[1], are just below the surface. This would include things such as how one treats an authority figure or whether the culture values a long term time orientation/focus rather than immediate results. It would also include the communication styles and rules.

Down deep in the iceberg (and our unconscious), we fine the attitudes and approaches to life, things such as our cultural rules about relationships, virtue and vice, and religious beliefs, which do indeed affect our culture. And we have many things in this area that we say, “it goes without saying….”

For example, in my cultural upbringing, I was taught that one does not interrupt someone else when they are speaking. Period. It goes without saying, doesn’t it? However, recently I was talking with a young man who grew up in a household where it was assumed you would interrupt if you wanted to say something. Before I realized the difference in family cultures, I was assuming he would just know that it was wrong to interrupt me (or others) when we were talking. It goes without saying, right? But when I realized that he came from a very different family culture, that helped us have a good conversation about whether and when it’s o.k. to interrupt someone.

There are four sub-dimensions of CQ Knowledge to be aware of and to develop which I will write more about next week.


[1] I will go into more detail about cultural dimensions in future posts.

Easter and Cultural Intelligence

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

The call to one another on Easter (or Resurrection Day as some of us like to say) is as ancient as the Christian religion.

Our tendency to be against one another is more ancient, since Cain and Abel.

And yet, there’s hope. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

It is because of Christ’s resurrection that we are who we are: followers of Christ. That includes being willing to learn to be culturally intelligent, to care for the people who are different from us, whether different in ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation or none, generation or gender.

It is because of the resurrection we have the power to rise above our own selfish focus, our tendency to think our culture, our lifestyle, our language, our choices, our opinions as better than another.

Some points to remind us of events after the resurrection:

  • Matthew 28:19 – Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL nations,”
  • Acts 1:8 – Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
  • Jerusalem: In Acts 2, at the time when the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples, there were Jews from “every nation under heaven.” (vs 5) The disciples started speaking in several languages, such that people heard “each in his own native language.” (vs 8) There was not an endorsement of just one language.
  • Samaria: Acts 8:14-17, we see Jews and “despised” Samaritans praying together.
  • End of the earth: In Acts 10:9-35, we hear the struggle Peter faced when told by God to minister to those people, the Gentiles.

The Gospel was spreading as the apostles were obedient to cross cultures with the good news.refugee-1532326_1280

Because of the resurrection,

We are called as Christians to a new unity not based on our tribal allegiances. In Christ “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free.” Instead there are those putting on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” toward one another regardless of their cultural origins. (Colossians 3:11-14) In Christ, who is the “image of the invisible God,” we are called back to being God’s image, a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue in whom the Creator can be glimpsed.[1]

Though “we are fallen humans,” because of the resurrection we are “dying to self and being raised with Christ as we share God’s grace with others who share our condition.”[2]

  • Romans 10:12 – For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”
  • Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
  • Galatians 5:6 – “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
  • Ephesians 3:6 – “This mystery is that the Gentiles [or any “other”] are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” [my addition]

 “Cultural intelligence is more than just a politically correct agenda for diversity and multiculturalism. Jesus’ life and death are what made it possible for us to seriously consider moving beyond the desire to love the Other and actually doing it.”[3]

He is risen!

He is risen, indeed!cross-2713356_1280




[1] Smith, D.I. & Dykstra-Pruim, P. (2016). Christians and Cultural Difference. Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Press.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Livermore, D.A. (2009). Cultural Intelligence: Improving your CQ to engage our multicultural world. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Culturally Intelligent Communities – Dealing with Differences – Agreeing to Disagree

When do we strive for unity? And when do we need to agree to disagree?

Because we are diverse, and because unity is different parts being combined into a unified whole (see the March 9 blog on Unity), we have a choice.

  • Do we just conduct our lives living as separate people, not connecting, not living in community where we care for one another and really communicate?disagree-1099579_1280


  • Do we choose to live in community, striving for a unity in the midst of diverse people?

If we do not choose to live in community, by default, we choose to live as individuals all doing our own thing.

The challenge, however, is that as soon as we choose to be in community, there will be diversity, whether of race, nationality, religion, opinions about politics or gender, and generations.

When I got married, there was a choice to start our family, a new community. Right from the start, two people living together with different opinions. Yes, we were the same race, same religion, same generation. But we were two different people. Different personalities (extrovert vs introvert). Different family upbringing (somewhat peaceful vs sparks flying often). Different birth order (#2 of 4 vs #5 of 5). Different regional backgrounds (suburb vs farm/small town). This impacted how we related to one another. And there were indeed disagreements for things as basic as what time should we arrive at church.argument-238529_1280

If this is just two people, what happens when you add more people? The more people you add to the community, the more likelihood of differences showing up. Diversity is inevitable. Thus, living in community is messy.

In the Bible, there is a verse that says, “Without oxen, the stable stays clean.” (NLT) If you don’t have oxen in your stables, there will be no dung. If you don’t have people, you don’t have the messiness of life. But we can’t live that way, without people.

We must make a choice to live in community, to be with people. And to be with people calls us to aim for unity within the diversity. With the messiness in a diverse group of people comes the need to learn the art of compromise, learning to find a middle ground. But what if we have completely different ideas or opinions on something? We must learn to agree to disagree.

How does one do that?

  • First, remind yourself:
    • that the other person is a fellow human, deserving respect and dignity and kindness, even if they disagree with you!
    • that often people have a lot in common even amid diversity. Ask yourself, what do you have in common with this person? Sometimes people are heading toward the same goal but with different means.
  • Secondly, get some perspective. Realize that unless it is a life and death situation, who wins an argument will not be important 10 years from now. No one will remember.
  • Thirdly, let it go. It won’t help you nor the other person to come out on top. If you are arguing about religion or football teams, trying to change the other person’s opinion will do no good. For them or for you.

Share opinions. Don’t be afraid of discussing differences. But respect one another in the process. And agree in the end to disagree.handshake-4040911_1280

Culturally Intelligent Communities – Dealing with Differences – Unity

Life goes up and down and all around. And through it all, we have those around us who are close loved ones, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues. We are thankful for those who are close, who accept us as we are. Even when we disagree.

And then there are those people. People who are different. Or disagree with us. They just don’t fit in with our life.

We must be honest. There are so many things that divide us. Opinions about politics, religion, gender. Then add different generations, ethnicity, nationality. So, let’s talk about disagreements or differences of opinion. Another time, I will talk about other kinds differences.

When we have people around us, or even good friends, who disagree with us, what do we do with that? And, if they are NOT close friends, how do we manage disagreements? Especially those issues that run deeply into our sense of right and wrong?

We must start with understanding what unity, diversity, striving for unity, and agreeing to disagree all mean.

Unity is usually described as being the same, thinking the same way, doing the same things. Here are a few definitions :

• a whole or totality as combining all its parts into one
• the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole; unification.
• absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character.
• oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement.

Which of these definitions really help us right now? Not the absence of diversity. The fact is, our world is very diverse. (More on diversity next time.) I also don’t like “agreement.” We can be in unity even if we disagree about things.

I prefer the first two definitions. It gives the image of different parts being combined into one whole. Think of our bodies. We are not all little brains walking around, or just feet walking around. Our bodies are different parts with different roles working together to make one body.

So, if unity is different parts being combined into a unified whole, can we be united even if we have different opinions? I think so.

First, we must be willing have hard conversations and to listen to one another well. My passion is to help us all stop and listen to one another. To hear what the other person says. Let’s start talking together.

In relating to the people in our lives with whom we disagree, we must always have a spirit of humility. We must recognize our propensity to get things wrong. Believe it or not, we are not always right!

We must always, always treat one another with respect and dignity. Though I may disagree with you, I still recognize God’s image in you. You are valuable. You are loved. You are human. You are worthy of my respect and dignity and kindness.

Finally, we must stop. Stop denigrating someone when they do not agree with us. Stop complaining that they are doing something we do not like*. Stop. Just stop. Don’t say anything if it cannot be respectful, full of dignity toward other people. Just stop.

That does not mean we have to agree. There is a lot of diversity in this world. A lot. I don’t always agree with my husband. (Gasp!) But I still choose to love him. That’s why we need to learn to agree to disagree.

*Complaining about something we don’t like is not the same as speaking out against evil, such as sexual and/or child abuse.


Culturally Intelligent Communities – How do we get there?

There is nothing easy about developing into Culturally Intelligent Communities. However, we can start with five not-so-easy but important steps.

First, we must have the DRIVE, the motivation, to grow and learn. Do we WANT our community to be a thriving, healthy, and safe environment where we can all flourish, using our differences for strength? Are we seeing those around us in need? Are we willing to do the work of becoming culturally intelligent?

Secondly, we need to start thinking with CULTURAL HUMILITY. Are we ready to listen to those who think or act or look differently than us? Are we willing to show respect and honor others’ dignity? Are we willing to think of others more positively? In Philippians 2:3-4, we read:

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Third, once we have drive/motivation and cultural humility, we need to grow in our KNOWLEDGE of the “others” around us. Are we ready to ask good questions to truly learn about those around us who may be or look different? Or act or think differently? Who are those in our community that are different from us? What do we need to learn about them to help us gain empathy and understanding for them?

Fourth, as individuals and as a community, our STRATEGY to increase our knowledge needs to be established and expanded. What do we need to do to grow our knowledge of those in our communities who are different from us? And what are our hidden biases that may be contributing to the lack of understanding on our part?

And fifth, ACTION. We cannot take in information without action. We are created to respond to learning and knowledge by actually doing something to reach out to others. It is also taking time to intentionally think through our reactions to those around us, what our responses might be and how to change them (our responses) so we are more supportive to the others we are reaching out to.

This short video shows four of the five steps I have just laid out from a little different angle and may be helpful for you.