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,