As we think about important work skills, one of the most underdeveloped and in need competencies in the global workplace of today is that of intercultural maturity. Intercultural maturity quickly defined is to understand your own social identity, understand another's social identity, and have the desire and ability to work harmoniously amidst the differences on a team. Sounds great, right? This work is actually much easier said than done and actually takes a lifetime of commitment to live out. We need to work to uncover the uniqueness of the people around us because, chances are, they have gifts and talents in places we don't.
The problem though it is human tendency to perceive others through our lens instead of taking time to see them through their own. Just recently, I was on the phone with a friend who was helping out on a Sunday at a church. One member who he had never met came up to him and said “You look like Trevette!” My friend, who is African American, had no idea what he was talking about but googled the name and realized it was the ONE African American person on Walker Texas Ranger. My friend shared with me while this comment seemed small and insignificant, it communicated to him that he was “just another black guy.” Rather than seeing who my friend was, he was stereotyped and reduced to one thing. Sadly, this story is all too common with Evangelical Christians in the US.
This is actually something that the Scripture is adamant in warning us against. The Apostle Paul in Scripture wrote in Philippians 2:4, "Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." If we are to truly look out for others’ interests, we have to spend time knowing and understanding what others’ interests actually are. We can't decide for them. This means we must go into our work environments with a humility and curiosity and not thinking we know what is best.
There is actually a tool that can help us in realizing our own blind spots called the social identity wheel. Knowing our social identity assists us in recognizing the filters we have in our workplace. Like it or not, our filters depict what behaviors we have, what values we operate from, and often how we judge others so they are important to shed light on. Take a look at this wheel below. Think about what aspects are most important to you. Which aspects have you not much thought about before? Chances are the areas in which we haven't given much thought to are the areas we need to be mindful of as we work with diverse people in our jobs.
We cannot be inter-culturally mature until we have done the hard internal work of understanding what filters we bring to any given space. Once we have begun to identify what operating system we are working from we can then begin to gently let go of our bias and pre judgments and be open to others who have different filters than us.
Another key element to intercultural maturity and pursuing harmony amidst difference is the ability to have empathy. Marjorie Suchocki another theologian writes, “How are we to love one another if we do not know another? A major task of how we should follow Christ, then, is for each person to share fully who we are with one another, so that we might enter God's mission of cooperative friendship.”We cannot know one another without empathy. Empathy however cannot be cultivated unless we are first curious and open.
When we are interculturally and spiritually mature, we pursue authentic friendship and mutuality. Our goal is no longer to just convert others to our behaviors, our prayers, or to look like us or think like us, but to partner with the beautiful richness of diversity that God has blessed creation with. This of course doesn't mean everything goes, but it does mean we are at least willing to listen and be open to where others are coming from and trust that in that pursuit God will meet us there.
Instead of having all the answers and conforming to dominant culture, we will begin to live out the Beloved community where everyone is valued as a human being and treated with honor and respect. In turn we will give ourselves to be transformed by the God who holds all relationships together in love! We will commit to conversation and friendship above all than just our doctrines, practices, or need to be right. While this may be uncomfortable for many, this reaffirms that in order to do this we must have faith in God’s love and who God is and trust God to mature us forward.
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Aizaiah is a licensed minister, international evangelist, and local missionary who is passionate about joining God's renewing work in the world! Throughout Aizaiah's ministry, he has served as an associate pastor of a local church, adjunct professor, an author publishing on spirituality, and a peace activist. He currently serves full-time as an administrator for Intercultural Student Programs at Vanguard University in Southern California and is completing coursework for a PhD in Practical Theology: Intercultural Education and Spiritual Formation. Aizaiah is blessed with a beautiful wife of five years, Neddy, and also a daughter, Serenity Joy, who is two years old.