Cross-cultural “rook”ie

Culture is the learned patterns we live our lives by. Some American patterns are (1) eating at a table with silverware and (2) sleeping on some kind of platform raised off the floor. In an airport all waiting for the next connection in their route, people from all over the world sometimes wish to take a nap. Americans, never sleeping on a floor, go into all kinds of contortions trying to sleep in an airport chair. If you look around, however, you will see those who traditionally sleep on a mat or low-lying bed stretched out nicely on the airport lounge area carpeting. The difference is what the acceptable behavior is to the person making the decision. Behavior is learned patterns.

In order to discover that not everyone thinks alike about the same things, I would have my students play the game Barnga. The game was played using Rook cards and a set of instructions written by Sivasailam Thiagarajan. It is best to have at least 16 people to divide into 4 groups, although I have played the game at conventions with 60 or more participants per segment. Each group sits around a card table with a deck of cards and the rules for playing the game. They are given time to read the rules. The first rule being they cannot talk during the whole game (this limits sharing of opinion). Unbeknowns to the participants, each table is given a different set of rules for playing the game. The game is played in rounds much like the card game war. The one person at each table who wins the round moves to the table to their left and another round begins.

The first round with players who think the high card wins the hand are soon shocked when playing at a table where the low card wins the hand or where trump beats the high card. The “high card wins” person reaches for his winnings and the “low card wins” person grabs their wrist and shakes their head no and points to themselves as if to say, “It’s mine.” What does the “high card person” do? Do they insist? Do they give in? Do they pout? If they decide to insist, there are 3 other people at that table that stand their ground with the “low card wins” person. After all, those are the rules. Those who know the rules can be harsh or condescending or helpful.

The game goes on and the people get more and more mixed together. At some point someone may realize, “We all have different rules!” That’s ok. What will they do about it? Will they help the newcomer to their table? Will they try to teach the “new” rules to the new person? Maybe they will investigate how the “new” person plays to see if they like it better or perhaps to support them so the whole group sees a better way.

I have used Barnga with many, many groups. It places people who have never been in the minority in a minority situation. For a small space of time, through the card game people become the odd man out. Without using the words race or culture or minority, we talk about them after experiencing a simulation of a minoity’s situation. In the debriefing, which is guided by the Barnga book, people learn if they have a tendency to think their way is the way or if they are willing to let others present a different view. Participants learn if they are welcomers or if they tend to block people out who have a different set of rules. Many issues surface, too numerous to mention in this one brief writing, but I can attest that this game affects everyone. Those most effected are those who are minorities in real life. They see themselves right away as the game progresses. Sometimes they break down during the debriefing process because they feel the emotion so vividly.

As Christians we want to love everyone and treat everyone well. There are a vast number of ways of being that we know nothing about, especially if we’ve always been in the majority. Being in the majority gives us a position of power. As Christians, we are to go to the least of these…the minorities of every sort. It is up to us as to how we go.

Blessings this weekend,



6 comments on “Cross-cultural “rook”ie

  1. Dawn, you always give me so much to think about. As I stated in your prior post, my Dad was on the bottom of the ladder. I was never ashamed of that. I was proud of his morals, his faith, his standards, his word, and work ethics. I became a normal, everyday, middleclass person — one that looked up the ladder and down the ladder. To my shame, I can’t think of a single time that I would move my feet off that rung of the ladder to go down and help someone further down. I was just too busy maintaining where I was.

    I will always be grateful for the way the Lord changed that. Circumstances, health, etc., sent me into a fall I could not stop and I ended up at the bottom of the ladder with no way back up. I learned shame. I learned hardship. I learned lumps in my throat and tears. The hardest was learning to hear the critics pass their verdicts on me as a person. I had a choice. How I would react —- with bitterness, or with compassion. I chose compassion. But even that was hard. It wasn’t hard to learn compassion for those who were at the bottom. I knew all about that. It was learning compassion for those at the top.

    Whether a minority, a disabled person, someone out of work, homeless, fighting an illness, or whatever. May I NEVER pass by and look away again!

    I don’t know where I’m going with this. But that’s what was on my heart as I read this. Thanks, Dawn.

  2. Dear Cora,

    You are so transparent. It is what I pray to be. You are so up front with your failures and strong in you pursuit to turn them around. Your comment made me think of the movie Benjamin Button and how he lived life backwards. Being born old he had pain and was crippled and restricted, but as he grew older, he actually became younger. As he gained strength and was released from pain, he was amazed at what he could do. I don’t think we are amazed when we are healthy and young. We don’t realize the gift of those days. It’s only when we suffer some of the hardships ourselves do we see the needs. If I got my twenty-something body back tomorrow, I would make better use of it that I did when I had that body 35 years ago!

    Thanks for your post. I love being able to read your heart and think along with you. Have a great 4th of July!

    It was for freedom, He made us free,

  3. Your culture game is very intriguing and I can see how if you come into the game knowing that the rules will change, it could be easier to not take offense… of course that takes off the spontaneity of the game and the lesson it teaches. As Christians we know the rules change endlessly ‘in the world’ so I find it easier to grapple with the whims and fancies of ‘worldly’ people, the ones we are sent to minister the gospel to. I expect them to change their rules and try not to take offence but am ready to share the Hope that is in me should they get tired of their tossing and turning in the wind….
    In our home we often have meals prepared with friends of different cultures and we are amazed at what is the norm for them… always different in some way and we have come to enjoy those differences and share them with others that visit us.
    Thanks Dawn
    I also liked your, “It was for freedom, He made us free…”

  4. Dear Susan,

    I can only guess at the cross-cultural mix of your life through snippets I gather here and there from your writings and postings. That could be a dangerous pasting together, but I’m sure you have experienced a richness few others have had. When the differences surface and become known it is a good thing. It is the unknown violations or misunderstandings that create walls between us,

    For example, a student of mine, fluent in Spanish and who worked with Mexican migrant workers in the US decided to study nursing in Mexico. She did not realize all the differences and soon took on the persona of the “ugly American”. She got this label by chewing a piece of gum in a group when she did not offer everyone a piece. She cut a birthday cake and served a piece to everyone not realizing that in this group the cake was considered the property of the birthday girl and she could take it home if she wanted to do so (and she did want to do that). A (thinking she was being helpful) passed it out. Everyone in the circle of friends thought she was pompous and rude. After a week of making such mistakes, she just sat back and watched to see what was acceptable in a kinda “follow the leader” mode.

    I suggest that people who really want to be helpful observe the people where they are going to work for at least a year. Do what you’re asked to do, but not take over. My favorite missionary book is Bruchko. He lived among the Bari of Columbia and Venezuela for years before he began to minister. Ah, well, we must always assume the best of others so we can clear up misunderstandings. The problem is our brains have a tendency to want to fill in the gaps and research has shown that “fill-ins” are usually negative. We must fight against this with the Lord Jesus’ help.

    Lots to think about this Independence Day (for me),

  5. excellent words Dawn… I totally agree …so much for us all to think about.

    We had a Japanese man come over once to meet an exchange student from Japan and we all shared a meal together. Little did he know that we had just experienced Chinese cuisine with friends from Hong Kong. They had brought ‘and’ prepared a ‘real’ Chinese meal for us and it was very important that everyone reach for whatever they wanted as the meal went along. We bumped shoulders and laughed and had so much fun. This set of etiquette didn’t go well the next day though for the meal we shared with this Japanese man.. As Nao reached for something, she unfortunately spilled my son’s glass of milk, for us not a problem, but for our Japanese male guest, unpardonable! He yelled at her that she was rude and clumsy and had the poor girl in tears. She apologized, and though broken, took no apparent offense, though in the later evening after our male guest left, she commented that neither a Japanese, nor a Canadian would have behaved as unkindly as he had; this Japanese/Canadian had lost all idea of true compassion and etiquette.
    Somewhere in there he had not observed well enough…
    Nao, Praise God, came to know our Lord Jesus Christ before returning to Japan…
    She was such a tender and loving soul!

    • Dear Susan,

      We had 3 Japanese exchange students live with us while they went to school. The Japanese really have a high context culture that makes it difficult to know what is going on sometimes if you are not tuned in to the culture. We also learned that Japanese is not Japanese is not Japanese. That will be the topic of tomorrow’s blog on Walk with Him Wednesdays where Ann is having us reflect upon humility. To live out Meyer and Lingenfelter’s Incarnational model of service, one has to be humble. I’m sure you will be able to relate.

      Thanks for your story. I’m glad it had a happy ending,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s