Friday, January 29, 2010

The influence of culture on the Legionary debate

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A recent letter sent to members of the Legion of Christ Director, Fr.Alvaro Corcuera, L.C., urged members to be charitable towards each other during their internal discussions regarding the future of the congregation. Read the complete letter here.

I dedicate a good portion of my management consulting to cross-cultural communication in business. When writing my forthcoming autobiography, I found myself reflecting on what I know about culture and how cultural differences play a major role in the Legion - Maciel debacle. I don't recall seeing any serious references to the influence of culture on the heated debates about the Founder's misdeeds. That is why I note a particular phrase from Fr Alvaro's letter. I should mention, as an aside, I've known Alvaro since he was a nine year old kid. In my opinion he is a great priest, an unusually "warm" human being, compassionate and charitable. Here is what he wrote:

“These are differences that more or less run along cultural and linguistic lines, with some English-speaking Legionaries calling for an open discussion about the errors of Fr. Maciel and a change to the “internal culture” of the order. On the other side, many from Spanish-speaking countries think the sins of the founder should be left in the past and that the evils should be corrected “by the faithfulness of the members to the foundational spirit.”

In my work with multinational corporations I find the simplest way to approach the complex, ignored, nature of culture is to use metaphors. The popular, over-worked, "iceberg" metaphor still works well. The "tip" of the iceberg is the superficial behavior we observe. The large mass, below the water, represents the forces that shape the behavior of a group of people. In a nutshell, those "forces" are the shared values, beliefs, and assumptions of a group of people. In turn, geography, history and religion shape the values, beliefs, and assumptions. I suppose you could say the iceberg metaphor implies danger, the need to have a skilled pilot to avoid running afoul of the hidden mass of ice, out of sight, below the water.

Take a moment to apply the iceberg metaphor to better understand Fr. Alvaro's remark about "English speakers calling for open discussion" and the different point of view from people from "Spanish speaking countries." Culture is the lens through which we view events. The first step is to at least be aware that my "culture" (shared values, beliefs and assumptions that shape the behavior of a group) is a tinted lens through which I see the world. People from a different culture see the same happenings with a different tint. Not good or bad, just different.

In my next post, I'll refer to the general terms "high context" and "low context" (popularized by the US anthropologist, Edward T.  Hall)  to describe broad-brush cultural differences between societies. I think they useful to better understand the "software of our brains" (Hofstede) so we can approach culturally based disagreements with more light and less heat.

1 comment:

irishmexican43 said...

Jack,
i stumbled across this cow late at night after not visiting it for the longest time. I look forward to your memoir which I know will be well written because as we say "you have the gift"
I see you are being consistent with your philosophy and take on the Maciel, Legion and Regnum phenomena,
J. Paul Lennon, author of "Our Father, who art in bed"