Category Archives: Culture

Quick Review: Culture, Conflict, and Mediation in the Asian Pacific

I have been reading Bruce E. Barnes’ Culture, Conflict, and Mediation in the Asian Pacific and found it unbelievably helpful as one who has been working in Asian contexts for the last decade and who currently is engaged regularly with people from over a dozen Asian nations.

The book is an exploration of how culture has influenced dispute resolution practices throughout Asia. There are chapters for each main country in Asia and they include Hawaii as well for integrative reasons.  Each chapter uses some of Hofstede’s cross-cultural indexes in different areas to provide a basic framework for the discussion and then the author unpacks the history of conflict resolution practices within those nations and how they may or may not have changed due to political or national changes.

For example – I didn’t realize China had such a rich history and interesting systems of mediation built into the framework of their history and culture and it was fascinating to see how Confucianism shaped conflict practices in different ways in China, Korea, and to a lesser extent Japan.  There was so much that really helps you understand more nuances of approaches to negotiation, conflict, or how to handle disputes.

The book provides a lot of comparative analysis between nations in some ways too so you can see how Japan is different from other Asian nations or how the Philippines or Indonesia is different.  In the west, most people now understand that “saving face” is a big deal, but this was a great resource to explore how those dynamics are different in different Asian countries and what the background influences culturally and historically might be.

The biggest takeaway from this book though relates to third-party strategies to conflict. Henry Cloud posted on facebook a couple of weeks ago a quote that said, “Direct communication is the best way to go through life.”  He went on and elaborating on things related to emotional and relational health. I think there are ways that this statement is true, but the book reinforced the reality that there are many ways in which indirect conflict resolution is healthier and in fact – better.

This is a worthy conversation – but I’ve seen too many white or American leaders write off, dismiss, wear down, or shame Asian-American or Asian leaders who were trying to resolve things genuinely, but that just weren’t respected or judged because their approach was different. Some of those things are not healthy, but not as much as what an average white American might think.

There are many ways where an indirect and third-party system of dispute resolution is very much compatible with the Scriptures and it’s worth a lot of reflection and cross-cultural dialogue about these situations and practices. You may find that it may offer a helpful corrective to some assumptions about certain Biblical passages related to conflict or at least it may expand the possible range of meaning and application.

I have been working through different strategies of how to apply some of the wisdom gained in this book, especially when matched up with insights from Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures and Cross-Cultural Conflict.  At the heart – it’s about a relationship first approach to conflict which I have come to increasingly value instead of the propositional truth or logic approach to conflict resolution.

Quick Review: Ask More

I read Frank Sesno’s Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change. It was published in early 2017 and I’ve been going through several books that deal with question asking in different ways.  I reviewed Conflict Coaching recently which contains large sections related to question asking when coaching people through conflict situations. Leadership Coaching contains great content on asking different types of questions to get at the heart and help someone problem solve in different ways.

But I really enjoyed this book as well for different reasons. It was really easy reading but set up in a way that was very helpful. Each chapter was basically self-contained which allows the book to have multiple resources for different contexts.  The chapters are designed around different contexts or types of questions so you get deeper dives on categories like diagnostic questions, strategic questions, empathy questions, scientific questions, confrontational questions,  hosting questions, mission questions, legacy questions, and others.  The author was a significant reporter and utilizes his connections to draw on some big names to illustrate the different sections. For example, Gen. Colin Powell is interviewed in “strategic questions,” Anderson Cooper contributes to “confrontational questions, ” and several other big names like Sandra Day O’Conner and others contribute a lot of wisdom and insight.

The chapter I found most helpful was the mission questions chapter and it would seem to be a great resource for some of the courses I teach. The empathy and hosting questions were helpful as were the diagnostic questions.  The most interesting or challenging set of questions was the confrontational questions – how to use questions to hold people accountable.

One of the things I liked was the way it sought to help someone prepare and be intentional with the questions they ask in different situations. It gives great criteria and guidance for developing the questions needed.  One area that I think was not really addressed was the role of culture in terms of questions in some of these areas. The author touches briefly on culture in the final main chapter and occasional through a few different anecdotes, one involving Yasser Arafat for example, but it’s a bigger variable than what is sometimes acknowledged.

The book has a helpful appendix section where there are abbreviated “refreshers” of each main chapter that gives a summary and review to help retain the information and as a quick reference section which I’ve found helpful.

It’s a helpful resource. For audio folks, it’s a great listen. But I’ll be picking up a hard copy so I can use sections in classes in the future.  But there’s going to be a lot of value in this book for just about everyone given the wide range of questions involved.

 

Quick Review: Conflict Coaching

I’ve been working through the textbook Conflict Coaching: Conflict Management Strategies and Skills for the Individual by Tricia S. Jones and Ross Brinkert over the past few weeks.  It was written about 15 years ago when conflict coaching was just starting to become more popular in the dispute resolution world.

Jones and Brinkert introduce their Comprehensive Conflict Coaching Model, which has a lot of narrative dimensions to it as well as a lot of components that are quite helpful to negotiation, conflict coaching, and mediation. The general flow of the process begins with discovering refining the story in a conflict and then proceeds towards deeper reflection about story through the lenses of identity, emotion, and power. That provides the foundation for crafting a better story in a conflict situation and working skillfully through relationship building forms of communication.

The dimension of the model I find most helpful is the intentional process of helping facilitate reflection in identity, emotion, and power. This is what makes or breaks conflict in my opinion and lack of reflection in these areas is often where people get stuck.

Like many narrative or secular dispute resolution models, there is no treatment of themes like forgiveness, confession, or apology. There is only conversation about how to shape a better story with others, which I believe metaphorically is a great way to envision an alternative future. But that future has limits without heart change and the dynamics of reconciliation. I believe combining heart work and Biblical approaches to reconciliation with this type of narrative framework for working through conflict can be very powerful, but there are problems if we just try to move forward without dealing with hearts.

That being said, this is a tremendous resource for people who want to do a deeper dive into conflict coaching and mediation. There’s a lot of great research and scholarship pulled into this that makes for a lot of great research-based insights and learnings.

 

 

Quick Review: 7 Women

7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas is a collection of 7 short biographies of significant women whose Christian faith informs their faith and extraordinary impact in this life.  I read the seven different chapters or short biographies periodically over the last year and wrapped up the final biography of Mother Teresa this past week. I read Metaxas’s 7 Men a couple years ago which you can get a feel for here.

I enjoyed this and learned a lot. Each biography was fascinating in different ways, but I really enjoyed learning about Hannah More and Rosa Parks especially.  But I was fascinated by Susanna Wesley, Mother Teresa, and Maria Skobstova. I was most familiar with Corrie ten Boom, but enjoyed this again. Maria Skobstova was really interesting – in her parallels to Bonhoeffer, but also that she was a twice divorced, alchohol drinking nun who became a saint in the Greek Orthodox church.

These are great books if you want to do some biography but you don’t want to go all in on a long one. This book is also a great listen as well for audio book people. Each chapter or biography was the length of my commute to work so that was quite convenient.

There’s been amazing women  in the world and in the history of the Church  – I suggest getting familiar with many of them starting with these 7.

 

 

Quick Review: The Fire Next Time

I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time over the weekend and found it really powerful. I had wanted to read it for a while and have heard many people compare Te-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which I found really powerful a few months ago. That increased my drive to prioritize this book and I’m really glad I did, despite being late to the party as it were.

As a book that was written in 1963 in the heart of the civil rights struggle, it struck me just how many of the themes are similar. As I was reading the book I saw the recent news that home ownership for African-Americans was assessed as having made no progress in the past 50 years, since the time The Fire Next Time was written. That bit of info powerfully shaped my reading and experience of what was written in 1963 with such power, art, and conviction.

One of the fascinating dimensions of the book was Baldwin’s critique of the nation of Islam’s approach to peace and justice as he found them to be ideologically on the same ground as white supremacists. But he provides a first-hand account of conversations and interactions I could never experience or observe in person and I found myself riveted in hearing the raw passion and anger and desire for justice. I was also disturbed by the unfiltered hate for whites by some. At this point in my own journey, such realities do not generate as much fear in me as they once may have. Instead, they generate deep sadness and anger of my own. It is true that much has changed for the better in the last 50 years, but it’s also uncomfortable just how much continues to reflect the same patterns of sin and injustice.  It’s these realities that make this book important for today as well.

Baldwin gives a strong critique of religion in this book through the lenses of oppression, corruption, and hypocrisy. He offers helpful perspective on how the church – both the black and white churches of the time contributed to the cycles of hatred, violence, and systemic injustice of the time. He clearly turns away from the church as a result, but there’s a lot about his experiences and insights that merit self-reflection for the modern church – especially the way religion and religious institutions can get enslaved by culture and the ideology of the time.

At the core of it, I heard through Baldwin’s anger and contempt for some of these institutions a deep longing for the church to truly be what it should be in the context of such blatant hatred, evil, and injustice. It’s a reality that when the church fails to have anything to say or do that engages meaningfully in matters of injustice and that fails to point to a tangibly different possibility instead of pie in the sky theology, the Church loses its credibility. And Baldwin, stirred with passion and anger, still resists the temptation of ethnic hatred and retaliation in favor of love and sacrifice.

This won’t be the last time I read this book because there’s so much in here that you just can’t absorb or take in one time through.

 

Quick Review: Cross-Cultural Conflict

This past weekend I read Duane Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. There doesn’t seem to be a kindle version of the book, which would be a shame. The book has some great stuff and in some ways is a forerunner to the recent honor-shame “movement” in missions and Christian scholarship.

This book offers some basic primers on cross-cultural relationships, especially honor-shame dynamics in collectivist cultures such as in Asia and Africa. The focus is still on helping Western missionaries think more cross-culturally and contextually in terms of relationships, conflict, and ministry so there is a lot here designed to help Westerners self-reflect about their own cultural biases.

There’s actually a lot of common ground between this book and Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges, which I shared some thoughts on last week. That book has benefitted from a couple decades of additional scholarship, but Elmer’s book includes some fantastic insights on collectivist culture and dynamics.

There are several chapters that deal with indirect approaches to dealing with conflict but goes much more in-depth than Georges does in his relationships chapter in his book. In addition to discussing patron-client dynamics in a chapter on the one-down position, Elmer also offers some great stuff on storytelling as an indirect strategy for resolving issues in honor-shame contexts. Of great help to me at a time where I am studying mediation was Elmer’s chapter on mediation and the mediator with an honor-shame culture in view. The role of a mediator is really interesting as expressed in different cultures. Each culture celebrates some forms of mediation and rejects others it seems. Mediation in Asia from what I’ve experienced tends to function very differently than mediation in the United States.

Elmer also unpacks a great negotiation, honor-shame conflict case study from Joshua 22. I’ve heard some helpful things on this case study before, but I enjoyed Elmer’s treatment of it.

One additional benefit of Elmer’s book here is that there were numerous examples drawn from the Philippines, where I currently live and serve, which I found actually really helpful. There’s a lot here that I can draw from for my current context.

So while there is a lot of commonality with Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, this book goes a bit more deeply into the arena of conflict especially as the title suggests.  I’m really glad I read it.  I was fascinated by the reviews – some of which are highly positive and some are negative. It’s clear that some people really have a hard time looking at conflict, relationships, and the Scriptures through an honor-shame lens.  There’s so much to be gained.

 

Quick Review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

I’ve read sections of Jayson Georges’ Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures since it came out about a year ago but didn’t finish it in its entirety until last week. This is a book I highly recommend even if you don’t serve or work in an honor-shame context and I’ll explain why.

First – this was a great primer on life and ministry in honor-shame contexts. This is the context I have been in especially the last five years in Manila, but even the five years prior in Asian-American ministry this was the primary cultural framework in which ministry took place. This simply should be required reading for anyone going to do any kind of ministry in the majority world, especially Asia. It would have been immensely helpful my first year in Asia.

The book covers theological and Biblical foundations through an honor and shame lens as well as really helpful discussions on how honor and shame impact areas like relationships, community, ethics, conversion, leadership, and other areas.  The chapter on relationships I believe is still free as a download on his website honorshame.com and was one of the resources I used for a recent seminar I did on honor, shame, and conflict. There may be some follow-up posts here as I’ve been reflecting a lot on his sections on community and ethics.

But here is why I think all people should read this – it simply is a fantastic way to help people expand their minds to understand the limits of their own theological and cultural systems. Part of why there is so much polarization theologically and otherwise is a lack of understanding and imagination as to how big the world is and how culture impacts everything and impacts deeply.

This book would add some humility to people, but I think in general most would be surprised at how much an honor-shame lens of areas like evangelism and ethics would really help people in the West as well.  This isn’t a book “for Asia” or the East. This is a book to help everybody expand their knowledge of Scripture, the Gospel, Community and Church, and Mission.

There’s no doubt this will be one of my top 5 books of 2018 so I’d highly encourage you to read it no matter where you are if you are a follower of Jesus.

 

Quick Review – Re-Centering: Culture & Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice

This month I’ve worked through the book Re-Centering: Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice by several editors and contributors.

This is a book written from an ethnic minority perspective on contemporary negotiation and mediation scholarship and practices. It’s a collection of 22 essays and papers covering a wide range of perspectives and cultural perspectives.

There’ are only a couple essays that I thought had marginal value, but by and large, this is an awesome resource for people working in a multi-ethnic context – especially related to theory and practice in dealing with conflict and reconciliation between cultures.

There are a few themes that stand out in this collection that are not often represented in a lot of the classic literature. One of these themes is that of power and neutrality. Majority culture driven practices often assume that neutrality is possible and approach conflict and mediation with a “blank slate” perspective.  This volume addressed that in multiple papers and from multiple angles and it really is helpful. There are some excellent perspectives.

Another theme is that of ethnic identity and how that impacts the arena of conflict and how the approach to a conflict can impact identity. Identity is a theme showing up more and more in the conflict and negotiation literature, though it’s more representative in peace and reconciliation literature. But here, those are woven together with a helpful cross-cultural perspective that illustrates why identity needs to be at the heart of any approach to conflict.

There are essays from a native Hawaiian, Chicano,  Latino, African-American and other perspectives that I thought were really insightful and add a lot of value.  There are some worldviews and elements to some essays I do not agree with and share, but the majority are quite insightful and powerful to read and reflect on.

If you do conflict work in multi-ethnic contexts or even broader cross-cultural contexts, I think this would be a much-needed resource to read for reflection and discussion.  It offers a framework for tensions between white leaders and structures and processes related to conflict and mediation and ethnic minority leaders who find themselves often further marginalized by the processes that others assume will help them.  I’ve already gone back to several of these essays/journal article style contributions to reflect more deeply on some of the themes.

 

Quick Review – Dignity: The Essential Role in Resolving Conflict

This month I read Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays In Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks.  It relates to some of my current coursework, had high ratings on Amazon, and the forward was written by Desmond Tutu so I figured it was worth reading. I don’t give this book the 5-star rating many on Amazon do.  I don’t even give it the 4-star rating, but I’ll unpack the highs and lows of this book below to me.

First, there’s a lot of great stuff here in the book from a research standpoint. I will be using this as a resource to find different relevant research to the world of conflict resolution, negotiation, or mediation. There’s a lot of helpful research cited.

Second, the author writes many times how she has developed a “model” of dignity – “The Dignity Model” of conflict resolution. However, it’s nothing remotely resembling a model. It’s just a list really of behaviors that can increase dignity or diminish dignity in others and ourselves.  In some ways it’s a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for treating people with dignity. But it’s not a model and I thought it was strange how often the author referred to it as such. It’s like calling the 10 commandments or even the book “everything I needed in life I learned in Kindergarten” a model.  There isn’t any conceptual framework in the model – just descriptions of how to treat people with a view towards increasing dignity.

Third, the whole approach is based heavily on evolutionary psychology and 19th-century psychologist William James. I don’t share the same fundamental worldview assumptions as the author so that’s a factor here, but I can still see value in unpacking things with a socio-historical perspective.  What’s hard for me is when the cavemen come out and we start talking about evil behavior and violence as “outdated survival strategies.” That’s just so empty to me and left me very unsatisfied.

This book goes beyond conflict resolution to really try to frame a human rights argument that at one point the author refers to as “God-given.” And in so doing, there has to be some effort to tackle the problem of evil and human darkness or “sin.” The worldview here attempts to build a case for dignity as a human right while also building a case for how fallenness in humanity is a result of a loss of dignity and the impact of these “outdated survival strategies” on an interpersonal, communal, or societal level.

This really is a secular humanist effort to build a theology of dignity without God.  It is a secular attempt at a theology of “the image of God” in humanity based on evolutionary principles and contemporary attitudes.  But the reality is the overwhelming majority of the book in its principles and its model would be obvious extensions of the Christian doctrine of Imago Dei and reflects really blatantly at times a New Testament ethic – just without reference to God.  So that’s the elephant in the room with this book – it represents a longing to treat people in light of innate God-given value and unpack what that looks like. But it tries to build that ethic on a foundation of evolutionary principles.  If there had been an attempt to acknowledge and integrate that these “ideas” were not “new,” but reflected in human history in other belief systems I would have done a lot better with the book. But there was a component of academic snobbery in asserting the “newness” of this approach when in fact – there wasn’t much new about it all.

Another criticism is the framing of “Dignity.” I think the word is good attempt to capture a governing principle here, but it’s a bit sloppy in its usage. The author uses the word dignity as a general concept that overlaps with dimensions of honor and shame, concepts of intrinsic worth, identity, and how Christians think about the “image of God.” There were points where the language of dignity as used ran into problems. There was also so many more opportunities to explore the dynamics of honor and shame, but they were treated with minimal effort.

So it may sound like I’m very critical – and in the ways I am I believe the book deserves the criticism because it really pretends as if whole bodies of knowledge and insight out there don’t exist. That to me is not good scholarship. However, the author and I probably share a lot of common values and perspectives. We just have a very different foundation.

It does bother me how many 5-star reviews there are, which reflects that people are highly interested in this topic and looking for solutions to the heart issues that plague mankind. But there are better paradigms that address the human heart and the human condition – but it takes the humility of faith to explore them. It seems like the fundamental effort of the book is trying to preserve “God-given” value by distancing fallenness and any concept of “sin.” The Christian worldview allows for both intrinsic value and completely sinful depravity – it just requires needing something outside of ourselves for redemption.  The tragedy is how Christian doctrine has been corrupted and abused for depraved purposes and power agendas – the merits of theology has lost credibility through leaders and societies seeking personal advantage.  But the theology is still there to be engaged and it’s foolishness for people to reject where such ideas are unpacked in favor of trying to “re-create” something similar on their own.

There’s tons of value here though and conversations and illustrations of how to treat people with dignity and what tends to lead to breakdowns in relationships and conversations. So it’s a worthy resource if you want to go deeper into the conversation about what is required to create environments in which human identity and worth is valued, respected, and preserved, then this can help challenge and refine some of your thinking.