“It’s all about us.”
My heart sunk upon hearing those words.
Recently, I had one of those cross-cultural experiences that left me shaking my head in dismay. I was a part of a meeting in which three young American guys wanted to meet with some local Anglican youth leaders to share with them about an upcoming music concert they were organizing and to learn from them about how to attract a more ethnically diverse audience that truly reflects the diversity of Cape Town. (Apparently, when they had their big music concert a few years ago, it mainly attracted white, middle-class young people.) This was how the meeting was pitched to me.
After introductions, the three guys dived right into marketing strategies: How can we get the word out about the concert? Which methods are most effective? The local youth leader guests had a lot of suggestions. After tackling this for nearly an hour, the American guys moved on to dates: What is the best day of the week to hold this concert? Which is best—evening or afternoon? Then they asked advice about what to charge.
When I asked the question about who was on the line-up and if they were using any local talent, one of the guys misunderstood my question, thinking I was referring to local church bands or choirs. No, I replied and pressed on with my inquiry: Are you including any national South African Christian music groups? There are a lot of great music groups in this country. If you want to appeal to a wider audience, you need to consider including South African groups. The three guys seemed stunned. One sputtered out, “Well, it is really all about us.” That’s when my heart sunk. And I thought to myself, Yes, it is really all about you.
I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt; I don’t think he meant his words to come out like that. What he was trying to say was that the concert only included their musicians because this concert was a part of a wider movement and they know the musicians with whom they are working. However, it came across to me, to this American who is living and serving in Cape Town, this ethnically diverse city, that the organisers of this music concert already have a plan in mind. They wanted to meet with local people, leaders who could get the young people to come; but at the end of the day, I don’t think they wanted to listen to them or to learn from them.
I went away grieved, shaking my head and thinking, This is why so many people think we Christian Americans are so arrogant. We come to another country to serve; we want to help. We listen nicely to the local population but go along with the plan we have in mind. Because in the end, we really know better and we want to go home feeling good about ourselves.
Perhaps I am being unfair in my reflections, but this has been my experience on a handful of occasions; and it is very painful.
I have made a lot of cultural mistakes since I moved to South Africa. I am still learning, but I honestly believe that I am willing to learn and I think God has given me the gift to be sensitive to others, no matter their culture or background. No doubt, these three guys want to do something good and want to serve the Lord, but they came across as wanting to come with their agenda and to do their own thing and not being willing to listen or to learn. A bit of humility and a listening heart would have gone a long way. I hope at the end of their concert, they won’t find themselves in a similar situation they were a few years ago.
I welcome your thoughts about similar cross-cultural experiences you have had. We can all learn from one another.
(Art credit: “US Flag Stock Photo” by nixxphotography and “Grunge Flag of South Africa” by zdiviv, both courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net)