The stereotype of stereotyping

I chuckled to myself as I read through the stereotypes of different nationalities charted on the Lewis Diagram. Being a world traveler, each nation conjured up faces and personalities of friends and co-workers I’ve visited abroad, and how I’ve had to adapt to them and “their way of doing things”—whether it meant slowing down and making time for greetings and effusion in Africa, or being careful to follow the rules of decorum in Asia.

Lewis writes that, “By focusing on the cultural roots of national behavior, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them, and we can make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us.”

Knowing that a great deal of diversity and subcultures exist within every culture, does taking the time to generalize like this make any sense? Anthropologists believe that it does, stating that despite diversity there is a foundation of shared values, attitudes, and institutions that binds nations together.

As the African proverb states, “he who looks from the bottom of a well sees only a portion of the sky.” The value of generalized analyses, like the Lewis chart or our Attitudes and Behaviors of Youth study, is that they provide us with a starting point to better understand how to interact with—and in our case, serve—people from different cultures.

We use research like this to give us—or a ministry partner we are resourcing—a bird’s eye view of the intended ministry demographic. Next we hone in to gather location-specific input from children, youth, leaders and educators in each of the countries we serve. Finally we start crafting age-specific, customized Scripture engagement programs and products.

We look to contextualize our products and programs by starting with the wide, generalized studies. Once we have a starting point established, we can begin to look deeper into the specifics of subcultures and their contexts. Understanding what our audience needs and how they need to receive it is crucial to the effectiveness of any ministry endeavor.

Sources:
The Lewis Model Explains Every Culture In The World
Harrison, Lawrence E. and Huntington, Samuel P. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Rob Hoskins

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Rob is President of OneHope and Chairman of the board at Oral Roberts University (ORU). His innovative Outcome Based Ministry model and training has helped thousands of global ministries shift their paradigm and begin incorporating best practices that dramatically increase their effectiveness.

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