Culture Shock

by Larry Hehn on June 22, 2011

culture shockI live in one of the most culturally diverse communities in the world.

More than half of the people living in my city were born in a different country. As someone who was born in Canada, is Christian, speaks English as his mother tongue and whose skin is only slightly darker than milk, I am truly a minority in my community.

The influx of many different cultures, languages, religions and food (my personal favorite!) is both a blessing and a potential threat to a country that already has a difficult time defining itself and its “native” culture.

Ask someone who was born and raised in Canada, and they will likely struggle to describe the Canadian identity beyond hockey, beer, Tim Horton’s coffee, and being much more polite than Americans while travelling abroad.

So it doesn’t surprise me much when native Canadians get a little jealous and resentful of these other cultures, especially when they seem to have a much stronger identity, bond and community presence.

Sometimes it hurts to see foreigners establish themselves and flourish in your environment while you’ve perhaps taken it for granted and missed opportunities that were right under your nose.

A new hospital opened four years ago in my city. A few months before the opening, the local Sikh community organized an Akhand Paath at the hospital, for the hospital. It was a well-publicized and well-attended two-day event featuring continuous recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture, from beginning to end.

As news spread of the upcoming Paath, some neighborhood Christians became upset that the Sikhs were allowed to hold such an event. Some felt that it shouldn’t be allowed. Some focused a significant amount of time and energy working and arguing against it.

Now, I can’t always claim to be a clear thinker or a stellar example of Christian conduct, but my first reaction was to applaud the Sikh community for their expression of faith and concern for their community, and the hospital for their openness to allow people of faith to pray within their walls.

My second reaction was to call the hospital to see if they would be willing to host a similar event for the Christian community. Lo and behold, they were very receptive to the idea. A few weeks later, some local Christians took the bull by the horns and organized a very successful Christian prayer service for the hospital.

So, was the Akhand Paath a reason to get upset, or a reason to get inspired? Was it something to fight against, or something to emulate? Would the Sikhs be more receptive to Christians and Christianity if they were treated with contempt, or with admiration and love?

A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. – 2 Timothy 2:24-25

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6

What aspects of other cultures have inspired you?

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy June 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm

When I was in Nicaragua, I was blown away by how they do not keep a “timetable”. They work to get a job done. They don’t kill themselves to get it done by a certain time. They are laid back. They take their work seriously, and work hard, but they also know to take a break.
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 12:19 am

Great observation, Amy. Here in North America we seem to be owned by the clock more than anywhere else in the world.

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Amy June 23, 2011 at 1:01 am

Well, our emergencies are not their emergencies either. So even though I needed to go to the hospital, I had to wait an hour. LOL. They leave no relationship unloved.
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Jason June 22, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Honestly Larry, I wouldn’t say other cultures inspire me. I enjoy learning about them but I don’t tend to look elsewhere for ideas.
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 12:19 am

As always I appreciate your candor, Jason!

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Ben Reed June 22, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Sounds like a healthy kind of competition between cultures, Larry. I like it.
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 12:23 am

Thanks, Ben. I like to think of this kind of approach as promoting a “solution” rather than bashing a “problem”.

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Elizabeth Birak June 23, 2011 at 2:16 am

Thanks for writing this, Larry. I was talking to a lady today about the Vancouver riots and she told me, “the rioters weren’t even Canadian! I mean, they weren’t even white! No wonder they acted like that.”

It made me sad because the Canada I know is beautiful in its multi-ethnicity. I always say that America is a melting pot, but Canada is a stir fry, because people are encouraged to hold onto their cultural differences that make them special… sorry that’s corny! 🙂

That being said, my husband is half Indian and most of his family is of the Sikh faith. One thing I’ve learned about Sikhism is how far their hospitality goes. There is always food cooking in their temples. If you go to one, you will be offered (sometimes expected) to eat. I loved that!

I think a few areas that we as a generally white Western culture can learn from other cultures would be hospitality, treatment of elders, and generosity. Basically learning to love and live unselfishly.
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Wow. I’m baffled that someone could think the way that lady did. I like your analogy of a stir fry, though it’s making me hungry! Great points on what we can learn. I agree. Thanks, Elizabeth!

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Jesse June 23, 2011 at 2:17 am

I agree, tearing down another person for any reason is no way of bringing Christ into their life. Like, you remember when that Floridan preacher burned a Koran publicly? What good is that?

Inciting anger is a reaction of the flesh, not a fruit of the spirit. (Gal. 5:16-26)
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Good call, Jesse!

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Moe June 23, 2011 at 10:38 am

Everytime we become part of some “movement” or “club” anything that is different becomes a threat to us. I expect that from unbelievers, but we should know better. We should not be threatened by outsiders, we should love them as clearly shown in the scriptures, we should reflect a God-like character as Christ did when he became “friend of sinners”.

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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Well said, Moe. You nailed it!

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Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom) June 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm

My faith has been majorly informed by other faiths. I lived and worked in Bahrain for 3 years and taught English IB to Bahraini students. I lived and worked (and had my twins) in Thailand. I was there for 5 years. I think both Islam and Buddhism can teach us a lot of things. For me, it was a lot about prayer. Discipline (Islam) and openness/silence (Buddhism).
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Knowing that you were in Thailand for a few years, I was looking forward to your comment, Leanne. Thanks!

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Ben June 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Definitely inspired, and I hate to see what happens when people take the side of feeling “threatened,” as Moe said.

I think there are so many different aspects of different cultures that are inspiring, as well as sickening. I think my favorite culture outside of mine, are those like Amy pointed out. The “laid back” but “get it done” mentality seems to be more dominant in central/southern american cultures, from what I’ve experienced.
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I love that when the “get it done” and the “laid back” meet!

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Clay Morgan June 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Love this. I have been focusing on cultural differences for months now in my studies. The big lesson you reveal is that when most people (especially Christians) are railing against some new outrage, we miss opportunities for great conversations!

And the Colossians passage you referenced is one of my all-time faves.
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Larry Hehn June 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Dude, you have to come to the Great White North to visit. We have more different cultures than the yogurt section at Giant Eagle! (If you know what I mean…)

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Keri @ Pop Parables June 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm

I love that you were inspired by their efforts, rather than simply getting ticked off about it. The same faith often inspires me in their commitment to being counter-cultural and placing a big emphasis on living out their faith, despite cultural norms. For myself, as an American Christians, its so easy to let my culture define how I live out my faith rather than vice versa.

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Larry Hehn June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

I’m with you, Keri. When I read some of the biblical and modern day examples of people who live out their faith openly despite opposing cultures, persecution, and even the threat of death, they definitely have my admiration.

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seekingpastor June 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Seems that other cultures exhibit more determination than mine. I admire that greatly and desire to emulate it.
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Larry Hehn June 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Thanks for sharing, Matt!

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Rich Langton June 25, 2011 at 3:28 am

I’m inspired by the straight up dedication I see in other cultures. Not only the religions of other cultures but dedication in general. People are willing to stand up and support their ‘thing’ whether it be a belief system or a sporting team. Sometimes we Christians just sit back and criticize. I applaud your calling the hospital and making something happen rather than just joining the criticizing masses!!!
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Larry Hehn June 26, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I wonder how often we sit back in unnecessary resignation, when all we need to do is ask the right questions and take action for some great things to happen.

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Rich Langton June 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I completely agree!
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Jon June 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm

To be honest, I don’t know if this is considered a cultural thing, or just a people thing in general. But, even though there’s a lot of flack about the American “culture,” I see a lot of good things. I see people that are relentless in making a difference, and that inspires me.
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Larry Hehn June 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

I wonder if we sometimes have trouble defining our culture in North America just because of geography. There’s certainly a difference between a New York vs California culture, or Texas vs Seattle, or Vancouver vs Montreal. But there sure are things that each of these cultures can have in common. And we all have a say in that. Why not make it something excellent, eh?

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