May 24, 2007 Matthew

Intercultural Competence

The Last Supper

Bringing all my studies, observations, personal conceptions, and ideologies from the past seven years into view, I find that I treat intercultural competence in a way that seems to be anything but status quo. For me, intercultural competence carries significant weight in the values of creativity and experience. A person can love a different culture or hate it. For some people it can be an acquired taste much like vegetables. For them it is a slower process of coming to like and appreciate the new taste. I strive to think of cultures as treats to be sweetly enjoyed. When I am not enjoying a culture or I am struggling in some area within it, then I must turn and evaluate myself and my own preconceptions. I must consider my own emotions, feelings, and attitudes. What I would regard as “intercultural incompetence” is a person’s inability to look past themselves. That can obviously present a problem on many levels of life and not just between different cultures. I see it as an intrinsic problem rather than an extrinsic problem. The beauty of a culture as God designed it cannot be taken away by one person’s negative experience with it or reaction to it.

“A rose is still a rose by any other name,” as the saying goes. There is an exceeding amount of negative response between cultures in this world and that should impel us to examine ourselves and find out what is real and true. Coupling this idea with knowing what is “culture”, what is “personal preference” and what is “universal” is also of great importance. I would not consider cannibalism a cultural facet to be adored. There are definitely facets within a people group that should not be correlated with culture. Things defined as “customs”, “traditions”, “heritage”, “honor”, or “religious” should not be hastily tacked on to a people’s cultural identity or ethnicity.

The trajectory of all this heads us ultimately to my personal understanding of “intercultural competence”. It is being able to creatively experience something that is beautiful and knowing what it is and what it is not. There is always discussion of “right and wrong” when it comes to learning about cultures. Yet, I have seen cultures to be something deeper than things that can be deemed right and wrong. Sin has spoiled cultures, while righteousness has exalted them (Prov.14:34). It is an involved work to be able to dig and find out what that is, that’s for sure—like a piece of candy very well wrapped in a lot of inedible material.