Friday, April 6, 2012

Another Lesson About Going North American

In my previous blog, I explained what the term “Going North American” means.  Read it for more insight, but here is a quick copy/paste.

North Americans have a stereotype based somewhat in reality, of being pushy, loud, demanding, overweight and rude.  You may not believe that, but it is true.  In America, when you are displeased with customer service or think that you have a ‘right’ to some different type of treatment than you are receiving, you can forcefully explain your point of view and demand to go up the ladder telling higher up people what you think.  This is okay when both the giver and receiver share a culture that permits and expects this behavior.  However, when you are in a different culture, it is not socially acceptable.  We missionaries recognize it and try to overcome our demanding and slightly obnoxious cultural background.  However, it is still such a part of us that sometimes when something triggers it, we respond as if we were in America…and since we are not it is totally out of place.  Our missionary friends are the ones who gave it this moniker, going North American.  It is a derogatory description of bad behavior.  In the other blog, I talked about how cashiers seldom had change and how I responded by going “North American”.  Todays lesson:

Another question …what do people think about you?  I mentioned that North Americans have a stereotype.  We may disagree with it.  We may argue about it, or even defend it by pointing out the virtuous side of it.  But, we do have one.  I promise you.  I have been on five continents and in about 30 countries…and we are viewed as narrow-minded, harsh, individualistic, rude, and loud.  In Bolivia there is a saying, “Ella estaba gritando como un gringo”, translated it means “She was yelling like an American.”  This stereoptype is so true that we missionaries actually call it ‘Going North American” when we are weenies to other people. 

So, what do people think about you?  If your co-workers were talking about you one day when you were on a trip or not at the office, or if your fellow students were chatting about you over lunch when you were not there, what do you think they would say about you?  I am not asking what do you want them to say, or what would you like to think that they would say….but be honest, what do you REALLY think that they would say about you?  What adjectives describe how you treat people?  What do others think about you?

Now…this is the point…WHY do they think that?  Right now there is a huge uproar over a new television series about a mega church in Texas and the women in that church.  I don’t know much about it except the fb chatter.  However, there is a stereotype of hypocritical narrow-mindedness and self righteousness that is the basis of that series (or so it seems).  I have to say, after being a pastor for 25 years…there is at least a bit of truth to the stereotype.  Instead of screaming at the stereotype, maybe we can see how the stereotype was formulated.  Was it based on misinformation, or just an extrapolation of the truth?  Let me give you an example.  I am a homeschooler.  For over 18 years I have homeschooled my children.  I have been on the board of homeschooling organizations.  I have appeared on television and been on the radio representing home education.  I have spoken at conferences, and taught at a college where 90% of the student body are homeschool graduates.  I pastored a church in which over 90% of the members were homeschoolers.  I have written for homeschooling magazines. I KNOW homeschooling.  I LOVE homeschooling.  I believe in homeschooling.  I am a home educator and will be for the next 16 years (my youngest is only 3 years old).

Negative stereotypes of homeschoolers.  Socially inept.  Judgmental.  Self-Righteous.  Know-it-alls. Chauvenistic. Backwards. Arrogant.  I know that there are positive things to say, but for the sake of this article I am using the negative.  Now, as you see my credentials above in the homeschooling arena, please take what I am about to say as an expert opinion.  The negative stereotypes are based in reality.  We can scream media biased and persecution all we want to.  However, there is simply some truth to the distortion.  It is like when you have a caricature drawn at the carnival.  Your ears may not be that big…but they are big.  Your nose may not look like a ski slope, but it is sloping.  We tend to be self-righteous and arrogant, looking down our noses at anyone who does not agree with us.  It is an accurate stereotype.  So, what do we do?  Do we judge the people using the stereotype and call them names, or do we try to break the image?

I believe the same thing is true about us Christians.  Yes, I believe in a media biased.  Yes, I do believe that there are supernatural powers at work trying to undermine our testimony.  However, I believe that in most cases it isn’t a situation of spiritual persecution…it is a case of a Christian who is a weenie being treated like a weenie.  Are we known by our love, or by the t-shirts that we wear and the mousepad on our desk?  Do we truly look like Jesus as we seek to be in the presence of lost people so that we can love them and help them come to the Father?  Or do we look like the Pharisees who simply tried to avoid contamination?  Do we judge sinners for sinning, or do we seek to help them break the shackles of hell?

I want to be honest with you.  One of the obstacles that missionaries have to overcome is our stereotype.  We have to break the North American stereotype by becoming humble students of culture and seeking to understand/learn before we try to convince/teach.  We also have to overcome the Missionary Stereotype where we are the superman who will fly in and save the day with all of our training and answers.  When I first arrived in Bolivia, I met with 10 different pastors one-on-one.  They all asked me “What are you going to do?”  I surprised them with my answer.  I told them that I did not know what I was going to do, that I did not know the answers to their problems because I did not know or understand the questions.  I said, “I am from a different continent, a different culture, in a different environment.  What I have done in the past is not what you need.  I must learn from you and then together we can see what God says about your problems in His word.”   One pastor told me that he had never heard a missionary say that they needed to learn. 

We have to be real.  We have to be honest. We have to let people see that we are nothing more than people who need Jesus.  How do we do this?  The same way that you can do it at your school, in your office, or with your neighbors.  By following Jesus.  By letting the Holy Spirit lead us.  By being filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing His fruit.  By becoming less like our Sunday School class members and more like God.

Until Next Time,


linda said...

I appreciate your insight. I will be using your going 'north american' phrase from now on. Haven't read your post on IC norte not having change but giving candy, but I have been there, thinking " it's the principal'. pondering it.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I'm loving this series. I'm stealing the line that expresses my own belief: "However, I believe that in most cases it isn’t a situation of spiritual persecution…it is a case of a Christian who is a weenie being treated like a weenie."