Today is the eve of our departure from Tanzania, and today it was impressed upon me just how difficult cross-cultural communication is.
I was reminded of this today during my seminar on marriage and family. This seminar is being offered to pastors and their wives in a region that has some very troublesome practices regarding marriage, and particularly the treatment of women. Others who live in Tanzania, look on this region, the “Mara” region, as being a bit like the Wild Wild West. And the stories we hear on the ground bear this out.
The communication disconnect happened during a Q and A at the end of the day. Everyone is tired. The rain had just poured all over the city, and our chairs were huddled away from the edges of the roof line of our open structure to avoid getting attendees wet. I spent 28 minutes answering a question on sexual intimacy in marriage, assuming a certain set of assumptions. At one point when I was calling for the need for extra sympathy and understanding, my students—pastors and wives—start laughing. How could they be so hard-hearted! My indignation was rising.
If I do not catch myself, I can find myself struggling with self-righteousness when I am not being understood properly, or when I am not being given the benefit of the doubt, or the judgment of charity. When my guard is down, I can actually believe it is their duty to understand me, and not my duty to speak carefully in a way crafted to help them understand. Actually, cross-cultural communication is so difficult. And both the sender and receiver need to work hard in order to come to a common understanding.
When the students burst out laughing as I was sharing such a sober moment, I knew we had completely missed each other. My assumptions had been incorrect. They quickly clarified. Now the answer was easy, and in two minutes, we were dismissed.
TLI, Director of Long-Term Strategy