Navigating the Foreign Culture of Your Loved Ones

Uncategorized Dec 07, 2023

This article is our third installment on things you can learn from your cell phone. 

Can we just stop for a moment and consider the remarkable fact that people used to navigate by the stars? I understand that sailors and military personnel still know how to do this. That is impressive. And think about what a radical improvement a parchment map was to star navigation. Well, truthfully, they used both together just a few centuries ago. Stars gave general directions, and maps could show specific details the sky could not provide.

Travel is a personal hobby of mine. Some people golf, fish, or enjoy some other activity. I like to travel. It is necessary for many of my responsibilities but also a great joy in my life. Travel teaches me things. It exposes me to different cultures and different experiences. Mark Twain famously noted, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness . . .” I tend to agree. 

But I would like to point out that it wasn’t merely changing locations that Twain likely had in mind. A simple geographic change does not eliminate self-centered character flaws. If you think about it, the effects Twain referred to came from meeting and connecting with other people, people who were different and diverse from him, people whose way of life challenged him in some way. It was connecting with people that affected his prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

Let me be more specific. As anyone who has ever traveled in a different culture will tell you, not knowing the social rules of a location can be very humbling and awkward. Merely sitting down to a cup of tea in a strange country requires a type of navigation, if you will. Unintended insults can easily occur, and a great dose of humility is necessary when some blunder happens. It’s that kind of humility that is fatal to self-centered character flaws.

Traveling builds humility, especially when traveling in different cultures. Simple, daily tasks require observation. You have to watch what the locals are doing to know the social convention for that moment. You must remain humble enough to recognize you have no idea what to do and teachable enough to take a lesson from others.

There’s a life lesson here. When was the last time you stopped to observe the people around you in your own culture? What about in your own home? Do you know the names of your children’s best friends? Do you know the back story your wife has shared about her co-workers? Do you know what tasks your husband does at work about which he is most insecure? You can learn these things by being humble enough to watch, listen, and observe - pretend you are a person from another culture and watch those around you to see what you learn. You may discover some narrow-mindedness and prejudice have been lurking in your opinions about those nearest and dearest to you.

You might just find that navigating relationships with those around you becomes a little easier or more interesting when you become humble enough to “study” those you love. If you’ll permit the pun, humility is the road less traveled.


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