Making friends in a multi-cultural world


Patty Lane

InterVarsity Press, 2002, 205 pp.   ISBN 0-8308-2346-8

Patty Lane is the director of the Office of Inter-cultural Initiatives for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  She has worked with more than 20 different language and culture groups.  She conducts seminars to help churches in multicultural settings.  This is a good introductory text with helpful discussion questions and useful appendices to help us understand the cultures around us.


“Our culture shapes who we are, what we believe and how we behave.”  “This book is a skill-building journey into crosscultural relationships....” (11)


 “What are the keys to understanding culture and its impact on relationships?”  “By understanding ... six [cultural] lenses and their impact on who we are and who others are, we will be better able to establish relationships with people from other cultures.”  “Once we recognize our own perspective we can begin to look at those around us and accept the perspective from which they see the world.” (168-69)


“The United States is like stew.  The individual cultures are recognizable, yet they influence each other and the flavors mix together.” (16)


“The visible part of the culture is the objective part.  It is the most easily recognized and the most easily changed.  It is supported by the subjective culture....  This is the internal part of the culture that drives or motivates the visible, objective culture.  It consists of motivations, beliefs and worldview.” (18-19)


“It takes more than outward similarities to have another culture.  It is easy to confuse this visible change with actually changing one’s culture.” (22)


“The second generation immigrant forms a unique, third culture by combining the parents’ culture with the new culture.  The result is a culture that reflects a mixture of values and beliefs....” (23)


“From a cultural perspective assimilation represents the death of one’s heritage and identity.  No matter where people live, they are generally proud of their heritage and cultural background.” (23)


“Some in the field of crosscultural studies believe that it takes at least four generations to completely assimilate.” (24)


Stereotypes have three characteristics.  They are

·        From an outsider’s perspective...

·        Restrictive or limiting

·        Accusative 

Stereotypes originate with someone making an observation about members of another group.” (25)


“Archetypes allow a person to have a general idea of cultural norms, customs and values without limiting anyone to be that archetype.  An archetype is developed by an insider and is on-accusative and non-restrictive.” (26)


Misattribution.  “By definition, misattribution is ‘attributing meaning or motive to someone’s behavior based upon one’s own culture or experience.’”  “First, our cultural beliefs are so ingrained that they appear to be either common sense or universal.  Secondly, misattributions often evoke an instant emotional response.” (27)  “This may be one of the biggest sources for poor relationships across cultures.” (29)


“My Texas speech pattern immediately indicated to my neighbor that I probably was not very bright and rather backward in my thinking.  Her New York speech pattern told me that she was cold and aloof.”  Misattributions!  (33)


Six responses to another culture: (27-42)

·        Xenophobia (fear)

·        Ethnocentrism (superiority)

·        Forced Assimilation (Americanization - You’re welcome if you become like me.)

·        Segregation (remain separate)

·        Acceptance (coexist, accommodate, and build relationships)

·        Celebration (valuing other cultures in their diversity)


“The U.S. Christian community has not taken the lead to endorse the acceptance and celebration of other cultures.”  “When our way of life or our standard of living feels threatened, in general, Christians respond like the rest of their society.”  “In fact we are so much a part of our U.S. cultural values that we seldom see the contradictions between the standards we profess and the values we protect.” (42-3)


“Each culture has a unique way of seeing life and relationships.  When we understand our own cultural lenses and the lenses of others, we are more likely to make friends with persons of other cultures.” (47)


Culture is defined as “a system of meanings and values that shape one’s behavior.” (47)


“Crossing cultures is easier when one understand which differences are culturally based and which are not.” (48)


Lens #1.  Context

“Low context cultures place a small amount of importance on the context while high context cultures place a large degree of meaning on the context.  Context includes

·        Environment (setting, location, decorations and so on)

·        Process (How the meeting is conducted, how participants were invited...)

·        Body language, facial expression and tone of voice (body language is not a universal language....) (48)


High context culture: (49-56)

·        “The context of an event is as important as the event itself.

·        The listener is responsible for understanding communication.

·        There is no distinction between the idea and the person.

·        Experience is equal in value to fact.

·        Life if viewed holistically. 

[Lane’s examples clarify these concepts. Dlm]


Low context culture: (56-58)

·        Low context cultures do not read subtleties well and value directness.

·        Define people by their recent achievements.

·        Prefer analytical thinking.


Lens #2.  Activity

“Doing cultures value results and materialism.  Being cultures values relationships and quality of life.” (61)  “For doing cultures, activities that produce results are valued as are the people who are involved in those kinds of result-oriented activities.  For being cultures, activities that enhance and build relationships are valued.” (63-4)


“Doing cultures do care about relationships and being cultures do care about results.  It is the culture, however, that defines results and relationships.  In being cultures results are seen from the perspective of relationship, and in doing cultures relationships are seen from the perspective of accomplishment.” (66)


Lens #3  Authority

“The authority lens addresses how a culture group defines and perceives authority.  The two perspectives within this lens are egalitarian/informal and hierarchical/formal.” (72)


Egalitarian cultures believe all persons have equal value and rights (although they may not treat each individual as equal in practice).  (73)  Hierarchical cultures have rules for much of life and accept and expect unequal treatment based on gender, race, caste, etc.  (73)


Egalitarian cultures are usually more informal, having a casualness to society that is expressed in diverse ways of dressing, behaving, and relating to others.  “The informal nature of U.S. culture can also make it easy for one to be insensitive to the need others have for cultural uniformity and structure.”  (75)


“Most hierarchical cultures adhere to some degree to ascribed status or status given to one by virtue of position in life.”  Egalitarian cultures more typically base status on achievement. (77)


“Small power distance refers to a low tolerance for unequal distribution of power and great discomfort when there is little access to power.”   “If your culture is a large power distance culture, having an authority (supervisor, politician and so on) tell you what to do with no opportunity for input may not be troublesome for you.  If your culture is a small power distance culture, however, this sort of situation may be virtually intolerable.” (80)


Lens #4  Relationship

Collective cultures view themselves as part of a group, which usually is their family, tribe or community.  [They] related to persons not only as unique individuals but as part of a greater whole.”  “One for all and all for one.”


Individualistic cultures see each person as an individual, separate from family or community.”  They relate on a one-on-one basis.  Every one for himself.  (86-7)


“For collective cultures, the fear of ‘losing face,’ feeling shame or losing honor seems almost innate, ...and as devastating as not breathing.  It is a guiding force behind most interactions....”  “To lose face is to bring shame either on oneself or on one’s family (or group...).”  “Loss of face can be caused by dishonoring oneself by not living up to certain goals, actions of a family member, not fulfilling another’s expectations, causing a person to be out of unity with the group, suggesting that one is responsible for a problem or a difficulty, or losing in a real or perceived competition.” Losing face is often a hidden barrier.  (89)


“Learning the art of being indirect will be a valuable skill.” (90)  Use words designed to avoid having to admit failure or error. (91)


Lens #5 Time

Is time limited and pointing to the future, a possession, a means to achieve results?  Or is abundant and historical?  (98-9) “Is time a “limited resource to be managed or as an abundant gift to be used freely without constraint?” (102)


Some groups start on time, no matter what the clock starts, because they start when all the people who need to be there are there.  (99)  “The past is part of the present and cannot ignored or just ‘gotten over.’”  (101)


“They talk about serving God and loving people, but I don’t see how they can when they are so busy and have so much to do.”  “They have their schedules and that is their god.  How can real Christians survive here?” (101-2)


Lens #6 Worldview

“Our worldview is at the core of who we are.”  “It is the bedrock of subjective culture.” “Worldview is the ‘culturally agreed upon perception of reality....’” (105-6)  Worldview sets the boundaries for what one understands as reality. (112)


Three perspectives: premodern, modern, and postmodern.  Figure 8.1 shows how truth, knowledge, perspective, and evidence comprise each worldview. (107)


“Much of what is called Christian in the United States is really syncretism, a blending of U.S. cultural values and Christian teaching into a system that reflects more of who we are culturally than who God has called us to be as His followers.”  (114)


“When the one sharing the gospel message cannot distinguish essential Christian truth from cultural values, it is easy to communicate one’s culture as Christianity.” “If you can’t see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else’s culture?” (114) 


Chapter 9 is on resolving conflict.  “Misattribution is the greatest cause of conflict and misunderstanding.” (118) Assumptions, different expectations, differing values, differing behaviors, and preconceived impressions of speech patterns, are often causes of wrong information. (119-125)  


Chapter 10 expresses the author’s understanding of God’s view of crosscultural relationships.  God loves the alien (Lev 24:22 and many others).  We too are strangers to an unbelieving world.  There is no longer Jew or Greek (Col 3:11).  (139)


“To understand and apply the Bible one must see it within the framework of its culture.” (140)



A.     Old Testament References to Stranger, Alien

B.     Culture/Feature Chart – relating to Power Distance, Collective vs. Individualistic, Doing vs. Being

C.    Worksheet on Preparing to Share Your Faith Across Cultures

D.    Preparing to Minister within a Diverse Community

E.     How Does Culture Influence Your Values?

F.     Building Intercultural Relationship

G.    Checklist of Intercultural Church Relationships