Have you ever wondered…
- Why do people do that?
- Why do people respond that way?
Anyone who has lived in another country or immersed herself into a distinctly different group encounters responses and reactions that just don’t make sense. The technical term for the different perspective is called worldview—“a set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influence all one’s perceiving, thinking, knowing and doing” according to Ken Funk (2001). But I prefer Paul Hiebert’s (2008) simpler description:
Worldview is the lens that we look through as we view and make sense of our world.
Here’s an example of the great variety of ways people with different worldviews might determine the “cause” of a tragedy:
- Poor planning
- Offended deceased ancestors
- Random chance
- Political corruption
- Lack of enlightenment
- Previous wrong doing(s)
- Survival of the fittest
Being aware of worldview—the other’s lenses–is important to anyone who is trying to communicate, teach or train others. Unless we know the people we are dealing with well, how do we share the Christian message without miscommunicating or their misinterpreting what we present?
While there are many books written on the subject and complex charts to explain the concept, one of the richest mines is the group’s stories, parables, pithy sayings and popular songs. Most of how we view the world is set at a very early age through a multitude of social interactions and observations. Parables and stories are a major conduit for valuable information about what a group values and believes.
Another rich source is the group’s symbols. What does the flag mean to a US citizen? The hammer and sickle mean to a Communist? The bread and wine mean to a Christian? Symbols and rituals are replete with cultural cues.
If you are interacting beyond your own social circle, be on the look out for these super highways to cultural insight. And never presume you understand! Be sure to ask a cultural insider; you will probably be surprised by their answers.