Grace and Humility.
These are necessary for all kinds of relationships, but more so for cross-cultural ones.
Our ethnocentric and self-centered way of perceiving the world is a main cause of conflicts in cross-cultural relationships. You think you’re right and your point of view makes sense because you grew up in a place where everyone else around you thinks the same way. And then you meet someone from the opposite side of the world who also feels, just as strongly, that his point of view is correct because everyone else around him shares it.
Your initial reaction is: “That’s ridiculous. How can someone think that way.” But then again, he can just as well say the same thing about you and your opinions. Based on personal experience, I offer three tips to help in bridging these differences:
- Acknowledge the differences in perspective. So far, my biggest realization on cross-cultural relationships is that there’s always a different way of looking at things. That doesn’t automatically mean that one perspective is right and the other is wrong, or one is better than the other. They’re just different. It takes humility to acknowledge that your way is not the only way, or that your opinion is not necessarily superior to others.
- Recognize the merit of each perspective. Do not disregard other people’s opinions simply because you disagree with them. It’s obviously easier to see the merits of your own opinion. It takes humility to take that extra effort to try to see the sense in an opinion that you don’t agree with. It takes humility to admit that, “You have a point.” or “That makes sense.”
- Try not to judge people based on their opinions. And I say TRY because I know from personal experience that this is hard to do. When people don’t agree with you, it’s easy to pass judgement and say they’re mean or close-minded or backward, etc. But at its core, it’s simply that you come different places. Different cultures, different histories, different backgrounds shaped your worldview, which are then naturally different. When you feel judged, and hurt, and offended, it’s difficult to separate the person from the opinion. It’s difficult to extend grace to someone who does not agree with you but you have to try because in a cross-cultural relationship, this person is most likely your partner, or his family.
We cannot always assume and expect the rest of the world to look at life and life issues from our perspective. If you want to have a meaningful relationship with people from a different culture, you have to learn to lovingly and humbly and graciously engage them.
So this list is by no means exhaustive. What about you? What are your tips for bridging differences in a cross-cultural relationship? Please feel free to add them in the comments section.