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Summary: KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING THE BASIC VALUES OF BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS OF CONTRASTING CULTURES

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KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING THE BASIC VALUES OF BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS OF CONTRASTING CULTURES

Several years ago Clyde and Florence Kluckhohn along with fellow anthropologist Frederick Strodtbeck, gave the world a unique tool for assessing values. They looked at how people analyze the answer to five basic questions in life: (Kohls, p. 22-26, 1981)

1. What is the character of innate human nature? - Their human nature orientation

2. What is the relation of Man to Nature? - Their Man-Nature Orientation

3. What is the temporal focus (time sense of human life? - Their time orientation

4. What is the mode of human activity? - Their activity orientation

5. What is the mode of human relationships? - Their social orientation

1. Human Nature Orientation - In collectivistic societies people usually do not have any trouble in believing Jer. 17:9 which says, "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it." Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the early missionaries went first to the village communities to do evangelism. They found the people quite receptive to the idea that they needed forgiveness for their sins. The rural people responded to offers for deliverance from judgment. It became obvious that many Africans believed in man’s propensity to do evil. Many accepted the idea that the only way to overcome evil was with a greater power of good through Jesus Christ. It is also this concept that leads many Africans to pursue power in various forms in a quest to overcome the evils that surround them. There are numerous examples of Africans simultaneously seeking the power that comes from God while at the same time secretly consulting with spiritists for intercessory power on their behalf. This had led many to syncretistic beliefs seen both in the private and public lives. Without a clear understanding of the nature of man through the scriptures and a Biblically interpreted anthropology, people will continue to look in the wrong places for answers to the problems of human evil.

In contrast many sophisticated urbanites believe that sin is a relative term. They value the inherent good in man and his capacity to overcome his limitations. It is for this reason that independent cultures tend to be more optimistic when it comes to believing the best in every person. To the urban mentality, man is innately pre-disposed to good behavior. It is the society, environment, and one’s circumstances that eventually corrupt the person. These individualistic cultures tend to favor the value that humans can overcome their shortcomings if given enough effort, educations, and problem-solving ingenuity.

A third school believes in the mixture of both good and evil in man. They believe that man has tendencies to practice good or bad depending upon the situations he faces. They are of the mind set that man is possessed with the dual capacity for constructive or destructive activities, depending upon the kinds of influences he is exposed to. This kind of thinking is usually found in a pluralistic society that has learned to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of both of the above perspectives on human nature.

2. Man-Nature Orientation - In more individualistic cultures man is seen to be in charge of all that he surveys. The urban individualist has a desire to control his environment and society. Man can control one’s destiny if given enough education, discipline, and cunning, says the urban - western oriented person. By the use of ingenuity, man is expected to control his surroundings as well as his circumstances. This is often seen in Westerners strong reliance on scientific technology to cure many diseases, political, and economic problems. It also is reflected in missionaries who enjoy using computers to try to solve African problems of disease, population, and educational deficiencies.

However, the rural - collectivistic oriented society says the opposite to this issue. They tend to view that man is driven and controlled by spirits, fate, or outside forces that are beyond his control.

The rural man generally succumbs to the outside powers of his surroundings, culture, and spiritual forces that are too great for him to overcome. He resigns himself to being subjugated by the forces all around him.

He says, "That’s the nature of life, there is nothing I can do but just wait on the will of God to be carried out to its conclusions." Here there is an attitude that we must simply resign our mentalities to the fate that our circumstances dictate. It is often seen in fatalistic attitudes that excuse men from their responsibilities to make the most of every opportunity. This passivity often leads to irresponsible behavior that lies at the root causes of many human suffering.

The third school tries to find a middle ground between the mastery over nature school and the subjugation of situation perspective. This group says that man has little power to counteract the forces of one’s circumstances, but he can modify his attitudes and behaviors toward them. These are the people who feel that even though circumstances may be against them, they can manipulate their friends, family, or personal outlooks to adapt to the struggles around them. In a real way, these people have taken on a harmonization approach to their situations which allow them to live at peace within seemingly impossible trials. Example of these peoples can be seen in Japanese culture.

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