Horizons Feb/Mar 2018

From the Executive Director

Cultural Intelligence

What does cultural intelligence mean for us? It is to exercise sensitivity, understanding to the host culture and to our cross-cultural teammates, so that we can relate with one another and work effectively without causing undue offense.

In recent years, many business, international aid, and government agencies’ workers have been paying attention to the fact that they do not work in a cultural vacuum. Many of us who work with Mongolians (our host culture) also work in international teams that represent many cultures. In order to work in harmony we must exercise cultural intelligence.

Some years ago, I read a story about some cross-cultural workers posing proudly next to the painted inscription of “Jesus is Lord” that they put on Shaman Rock, Olkhon Island on Lake Baikal in Siberia. The rock is one of the most sacred sites in Mongolian Shamanism. Such behavior is hard to condone for any one with cultural intelligence. Would shamanists actually come to believe in Jesus because of this? How would these cross-cultural workers feel if a shaman hung a khengereg (shaman’s drum) over a church cross?

During many years of living in Mongolia, I have observed that one of the common mistakes we cross-cultural workers commit is when we are quick to judge and condemn the Mongolian worldview while they themselves remain ignorant of it.

Gailyn Van Rheenen warns:
“When a missionary enters a new culture, he is not entering a cultural vacuum. The people of that culture already have existing beliefs about God, man, spirits, and magic. They already know how human beings relate to the powers and have a culturally formulated sense of sin and salvation.” (Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts, 1991, pp 148-9)

During Tsagaan Sar and all the year round, let us be good cultural learners who can observe Mongolian traditions, customs and practices. Many of these are embedded in their food, fashion, music, arts and sports, stories, etc. Also, let us be respectful of their customs, manners, and worldview without passing judgement too quickly.

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