BElow the surface


The Hidden Rules of Culture in Relationships

Most of us would say that we come from the same culture because we’re from the same country or region of our country.  What we may not realize is that we are actually from different cultures.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”.  Many factors influence what we believe about ourselves and the world around us, how our society works and the different roles in society, what we value most in life, and the attitudes and behaviors that express these values. In reality “our American culture” is made up of many sub-cultures across religion, race, heritage, or social group. 


When you serve another as an advocate, you may discover that you were raised differently and think about the world differently. If we don’t know this from the start, these differences can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and misjudgments. 


Our decisions and actions are the result of ‘rules’ that come from our culture and may be hidden to others. These hidden rules can affect our relationships until we understand their source.  Internal and external factors also influence the decisions someone makes. We may make decisions based on our own preferences or values (internal) or because of factors outside of our control (external) such as a medical need.  These factors combined with hidden rules can make our relationship with another challenging. 


Culture is sometimes compared to an iceberg. The visible part above the surface is our behavior. What we do and say, such as the clothes we wear or the food we eat, is tip of the iceberg that others see.   Below the surface though, why people talk or dress a certain way, is the much larger portion below the surface. Our attitudes express the core values and are reflected in situations in daily life such as work or friendships. At the base of the iceberg are our core values, which are learned ideas of what is considered good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. 


Consider a parent who spends several hundred dollars on new shoes for his or her child even though he or she couldn’t afford to pay the water bill. That is the behavior that we see and may quickly judge. Digging deeper though, you may learn that the behavior is driven by the attitude that having a certain pair of shoes is important for social standing. This attitude is an expression of the core value of belonging. 


Be careful not to interpret another’s behavior through your own cultural lens. Ask the deeper question of why they acted that way. What attitudes and values influenced their actions?  Remember, too, that others will be looking at your behavior from their own lenses and perhaps also misinterpreting your actions. 


As you enter a relationship as an advocate, enter with an open heart and an open mind. Ask questions and listen carefully for what is said and what is not said.  Be open, too, about your own attitudes and values. You may find you have much more in common than you thought. 


Above all else, cover the relationship in prayer!  Ask God to guide your conversations, to give understanding, and to be at the center of your relationship.

Above all else, cover the relationship in prayer!  Ask God to guide your conversations, to give understanding, and to be at the center of your relationship.