Cultural Intelligence

Listening to Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are

I got it from Audible with one of their special 2 for 1 deals for a credit I had- not exactly free, but I didn’t pay the full price, either.  I almost never do.

He tells an interesting story about a group of pastors from three different countries he met with and they discussed the story of the PRodigal Son.  Don’t go look it up, yet. Just review it in your mind briefly and answer this question:

Why did the Prodigal Son end up with the pigs?

The pastors were American, Russian, and Tanzanian.  Here are their answers, and you can probably guess which answer came from the Americans.

Because there was a famine.

Because nobody would give him anything to eat.

Because he squandered his inheritance.

Who was right?

Luke 15-

12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

So who was right?  ALL of them!  Who was only partially correct?  ALL of them!

The point of the lecturer is that our culture doesn’t just influence how we behave, it influences what we *notice.*


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  1. Cindy
    Posted April 5, 2017 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    But the famine feel on everybody, the fact that no one would give him good probably had something to do with his lifestyle, which landed him in the position of grasshopper in a land of ants who rightfully despise his behavior. So I’m going to say that squandering his inheritance, his own actions, really are THE right answer. Nice try at relativism, though. (Really? I wouldn’t have expected such thinking from you.)

    • Headmistress
      Posted April 5, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Not relativism. Culture does influence you in ways you don’t even realize, including what you notice. That’s not really arguable, and it isn’t a moral statement about right or wrong. This is an illustration of culture influencing what we notice. The Bible very clearly lists all three things as contributory causes and I never noticed the other two at all. You could argue that famines can come and people do not always share and this is another reason not to squander, but you still have to notice the other two causes.

  2. Cindy
    Posted April 5, 2017 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    My point would go over better with a little editing. Feel= fell. Good= food

  3. Lisa Beth W.
    Posted April 5, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Well, the first thing that happened is that he squandered his inheritance, and if he hadn’t done that, he would have been able to get something even though there was a famine. So, the reason he ended up with the pigs is because he wasted his money. The fact that no one would give him anything came after he was with the pigs, so it wasn’t one of the reasons he was there. I knew these things before I reviewed the story just above, and I don’t think that was cultural, just a thorough knowledge of the parable.

    • Headmistress
      Posted April 5, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      So you know more. ARe you arguing that this is a bad example, or do you really think the main point is false? Do you think culture has zero influence over the types of things that stand out, the details typically glommed on, the way one filters information?

      • Lisa Beth W.
        Posted April 7, 2017 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        I’m saying that this doesn’t really seem to me to be a true illustration of cultural influence on how someone interprets information. (Sorry, didn’t mean to look like a know-it-all.) It seemed more to me like a couple of people didn’t understand or remember the parable well. I am certainly not saying that I think culture has zero influence over the things you mention. Undoubtedly it does have an influence. Personal experience, regardless of culture, must surely play a large part as well.

        • Headmistress
          Posted April 8, 2017 at 1:04 am | Permalink

          It wasn’t a couple of people. It was a large group of pastors from three countries, and the answers fell along geographical lines.

          • Lisa Beth W.
            Posted April 10, 2017 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

            Hmmm…didn’t know that. Would like to hear the story myself, but I guess I can’t. The answers fell strictly along geographical lines, and did they know what the others were answering? (Not to beat a dead horse here or anything…:) )

          • Headmistress
            Posted April 10, 2017 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

            I think they were together, but I am not sure about that. Somebody else in the comments pointed out that if you live in a country that has known famines in your lifetime, you have a reason to notice any mention of famine and be impacted by it, strongly. So I’ve been thinking that maybe, culturally, what this tells us is something about what issues pastors see their flocks struggling with. Americans are more likely to squander their wealth, the other group is struggling more with a lack of generosity, and the third has seen more famines in recent memory?

            Mainly, though, I think the take away isn’t about what was the primary cause, but what is our own cultural filter? Not that the filter is even necessarily wrong, just that it’s there.

  4. Linda
    Posted April 6, 2017 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Years ago, you posted a similar story. My main take away from that post is that the Russian readers noticed the famine because of a real understanding of a famine, instead of a theoretical understanding of famine as we have in most of the western world. (Especially America). I have attempted to pay more attention to famine and droughts in the Bible stories because of that. We really don’t know the hunger and deprivation caused by those events.

    I do agree that all three things attributed to his circumstances, but after all, it was a story that Jesus told to demonstrate the love of the Father.

    • Headmistress
      Posted April 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm | Permalink


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