Day: June 19, 2009

cross-cultural connections (4)

Download a pdf of this series of posts HERE.

How do you divide up the world? There’s lots of debate about the political correctness of these big labels, but here are some options:

  • First, Second and Third Worlds?
  • ‘East’ and ‘West’?
  • ‘North’ and ‘South’?
  • Developed and Developing?

Duane Elmer refers a lot to Westerners and the Western world, but then refers to the rest of the world as the ‘Two-Thirds World’. Linguistically it kind of bugs me, but I hope you get the gist of what he means…Globe

The latter third of Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Connections discusses a number of key cultural differences between the ‘West’ and the ‘Two-Thirds World’. Like all generalisations, it’s going to grate sometimes, but there was also quite a bit of wisdom. One of the things he said that really struck me was about goal- vs relationally-oriented people.

According to Elmer, Western society is dominated by a goal-focussed mentality. There’s plenty that’s good about this way of operating: goal-oriented people work hard, they are often trustworthy and dedicated. They get a lot done. The relationally-focussed person, on the other hand, dominates the Two-Thirds World. Relationships lay the foundation for activity; goals and schedules are only attended to after sharing in conversation and hospitality. When a friend drops in to visit, they become the relationally-oriented person’s priority — the doctor’s appointment will wait.

Now, there’s no right way to do things — Elmer’s clear this is just a case of difference — but here’s the rub… Elmer’s insight is that goal-oriented people will sacrifice relationships in order to reach the goal while relationally-oriented people will sacrifice the goal in order to maintain the relationship.

In light of this insight, I’ve been wondering what kind of impact discussions like this one will have? I think moving towards realistic goals is definitely a step forward, and generally I’m all for KPIs and SMART goals. But Elmer’s planted a small seed of doubt. What will we be prepared to sacrifice (marriages, friendships, sanity…?) in order to demonstrate we’ve achieved our man-made goals?