I collect culture. Like a child on a schoolyard my pockets bulge with interesting pieces of earth. The little stone I will show you today is hard, like my head at times, and looks oddly like a little button. It’s hard to learn, because it is not based on facts, figures, and findings. It is hard to assimilate to because of how it clashes with my own culture.
On most of the social media sites an option exists permitting you share things with your friends. With a few quick clicks they can see a funny photo or an awesome video. You can re-post links, too. For the creatives a quick share takes the form of a pin. Like a certain phrase on someone’s wall? Share it to your own wall and you are ‘cool like that’. I’ve used these easy share options on many occasions.
The expected response from your viewers is relatively low. You know you have x number of people connected to you with so-and-so social media site. Certain ‘shares’ will earn comments, likes, hearts, thumbs ups, or whatever cute little icon that site happens to use. We expect some to respond, but not everyone. Why would we share it if we didn’t?
Bolivians have built in share buttons, but in real life.
This morning a member of our church came to over to my table. The breakfast for the new members was winding down. This long-time member began talking to me. She clicked the share button. But my response was not optional, as it would have been online. I knew I needed to engage in this conversation. She talked for quite some time about what the church had taught her and how happy she was. Then she said something that sent me into alert mode.
“Now I would like to give you some feedback about something that I have noticed about our church.”
My United States brain, highly trained in the importance of efficiency and productivity heard the word feedback and went into analysis mode. While she spoke I began evaluating my actions in the area she was addressing. I began mentally building the vocabulary to help her see my side. She said, “Feedback” and I heard, “Something needs to change.” She gave examples and details about her point of view on this topic. She even said she had brought people to the church as visitors and because of this specific line of teaching in the church the visitors told her they didn’t want to return to the church. I got a few edgy words in edgewise. I could feel my pulse racing and my defensive shield going up. This wasn’t the first time a member of the congregation had spoken about the way we do things in the church.
So I asked her straight out, “What change would you like to see in the church?”
Her face crinkled up in confusion before saying, “Nothing.”
In exasperation at the sheer length of this conversation and the unbelievable notion that she didn’t expect change I rephrased the question, “You have been sitting here explaining your point of view on this line of teaching and the negative effects that it has evidently had on your friends and you are not expecting us to change anything?”
She said, “Look me in the eyes. I am telling you the truth. I don’t want the church to change anything. I just wanted to share with you my point of view. Nothing more. I really like to talk and share what I think. I just wanted to share.”
My teeth bit down on the tip of my tongue behind my pursed lips. All I wanted to say, but didn’t, was, “Then why would you waste my time with this long discourse? Why would you jeopardize the time I could have used to talk to the new members? Why would you share a differing point of view if you didn’t expect me to change something?”
I apologized. What more could I do? She said her piece. Apparently that is all she wanted to do. Maybe she expected me to do some sharing with her, I really didn’t want to at that moment. So we wrapped up with thank yous, I appreciate yous, God bless yous, pats on the shoulders, forced smiles, and kisses on the cheeks.
Every so often culture shock still gets me. If the organizers of the event were not already putting away chairs and clearing tables I might have talked with her longer. I might have shared, too.
- I need to learn to let people share
- I need to try to train my brain to recognize when the speaker expects change and when they just need an ear to listen.
- I still find it hard to believe that she didn’t expect me to ‘fix’ something based on her ‘feedback’.
- I still think the purpose of presenting a conflicting opinion is to convince the other person to see it your way, and maybe even convert that person to your way of thinking.
- Even though she doesn’t expect me to change in this certain area, I still need to change.
- I need to change the way I converse with Bolivians.
Beyond altering my responses, and lowering my defenses, I need to go further and find my own share button. I might have to trick myself. As one who comes from a culture capitalizing on the value of time I will need to place a specific goal on my ability to share. Instead of seeing it as a waste of time to just talk and not expect more than to be heard, I can look at it as building credibility. When I become skilled at sharing for the sake of sharing I will be viewed more as an insider. They will more readily believe me. Then, when I do feel like it is my place to help them make changes that would improve their lives and the lives of others around them, I will be heard more clearly.
Questions rolling around in my mind that you might like to respond to:
Can this culture clash be turned into a culture meld?
What do you think?
How can I find my share button?
Is there a way to turn off the analysis mode?
When you share a difference of opinion what do you expect from your listeners?