Robert & Roberta Adair

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This last week, I was struck by 3 pretty major cultural differences that seemed to jump up and bite me in the face.

#1 – “inefficiency”

On Tuesday, I went to an hour-long “meeting” to talk with two other people about the selection of binders for an English class that I’ll be co-teaching.  A part of me thought it was so ridiculous – what inefficiency!  What a waste of time!  I could go to the store and pick out binders myself (as could either of these ladies!).  Why do we need to have a meeting about this? (“ugh, ‘Japanese inefficiency.’”)  Yet I think, for many Japanese people, the group and not the individual makes decisions.  Acting independently isn’t valued – there is a need for group buy-in and collaboration.  So, perhaps the binder meeting was a bit extreme and unnecessary from my view, but I hope to grow in at least understanding and hopefully eventually valuing the process of decision-making here.

#2 – harmony”

The second difference was during a conversation with a good friend.  She is torn between wanting to protect a group’s harmony and also realizing that an individual in the group needs to be protected.  For me, I think the “right thing” to do is so obvious (and, in this fairly extreme example, I am right.  And I’m not afraid to say it).  When the safety of an individual outweighs a group’s harmony (false harmony, I might add), it is our moral duty to step in.

And yet…on this same day, I saw many posts on facebook about peoples’ responses to universal healthcare (of which I’m a fan).  I think a main issue is that a lot of Americans value the individual over the group so much so, that “my” rights/well-being/health is more important than “our” collective rights/well-being/health.  (which, pardon, seems to be pretty ugly, selfish, and howtheheck did this way of thinking infiltrate us?)  Yes, sometimes the needs of the individual are more important than the group.  But I think, as an American, I need to realize that these instances aren’t as common as I often think they are.

[In my friend’s situation, please pray that she will have courage to do the morally right but culturally (and personally) difficult thing to do.  And please pray that I’d learn how to discern when group trumps individual and vice versa.]

#3 -  joy and suffering

The third cultural “hmmmm?” was at girls Bible study on Wednesday night.  We were reading a part of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  In extremes, Americans (and the church) seem to value joy and happiness (“so that they may have the full measure of my joy…” v. 13) and Japanese people (and the church) have a high value on suffering and the often-painful process of sanctification (“…so that they, too, may be truly sanctified” v. 19).  Dude, I as an American really value my fun.  Life and relationships should have a strong element of “enjoying” (one another, beauty, etc.) – and not at the expense of authenticity, which I/we also value.

Here’s a quick language comparison: In English, we often call out “Have fun!” and “You can do it!” when someone leaves to do something.  In Japanese, people say “Gambatte!” (or “persevere,” work hard!).  Both are good things, and neither is healthy in extreme form.   We need both for appropriate balance.  Somber, boring people who wouldn’t know fun if it kicked ‘em in the pants are a pretty lousy testimony.  So is a selfish pursuit of happiness, lack of self-control, and a consumeristic kind of Christianity.  One extreme masks pain with phony grins and the other with an I-can-handle-extreme-pain-alone martyr face.  We need friends who persevere with us in hard times; we need friends who we enjoy and who enjoy us.  Yep, both are important.

Lots to learn and process…

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