Thursday, May 4, 2017

Just a Little Blunt

We call her Buddhi Ama (boody om muh). It is a respectful way to say old mother. She had been in the hospital for three weeks. My husband and I had visited her when we found out she was in the hospital, but now she had finally come home. Our sweet elderly neighbor wanted us to visit as soon as possible, so we did.

Her grandson led us to the room where she was in bed. When she saw us, her face lit up. She looked so much healthier than when we saw her in the hospital. We love this sweet lady. She is like a grandmother to us. (I wish I had a picture of her, but we try to be very respectful when taking pictures of our people. We don't want them to feel paraded like spectacles.)

We sat and chatted for a while. When speaking to the people here, you have to be ready for two things:

  1. The people here are... well... curious. Some may say nosy, but curious is a better term. You never know what they will ask. They ask about the cost of things you buy, how much money you make, what your weight is. Nothing is off limits.
  2. The people are blunt. If they think it, they will probably say it.

Sure enough, it happened. She chose option number two.

"I don't like the color of your house. It's too dark."

Then her grandson chimed in with, "Yes, quite frankly, I don't like it either."


I just let it roll off. I have learned to have a thick skin here. It used to be very difficult, though. I used to weigh 50 pounds more than I weigh now. Frequently I would have people say, "You are so fat." Some would follow that statement with advice of how I could lose weight. It made it quite clear that being called fat was not considered a compliment like in some cultures. Even Buddhi Ama has told me before how fat I was. What was I to say? It was true! But now that I have lost so much weight, I haven't heard anything about being fat. Instead I hear about how thin I have become, and they ask how I did it.

So, in dealing with a blunt culture, when do you let it slide as part of the culture... and when do you confront the people for not being kind? If what they are saying isn't edifying, should I overlook it? Should I just have a thick skin or should I speak up?

Ephesians 4:29-32 "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

I am sure there are varying opinions on this subject, but here are a few deciding factors that determine how I respond.

Are they Christian?

This is always my first thought. If the person I am dealing with is not a Christian, the Bible is not the basis of their behavioral standard. Buddhi Ama is Hindu. There are bigger fish to fry than her stating she doesn't like the color of my house or that she thought I was fat. She needs a Saviour!

As Christians, corrupt communication should never come from our mouths, but sometimes the corruptness of communication is determined by culture. I would never tell someone in America that they are fat. Americans are pretty sensitive about that. But in some cultures, calling someone fat is a compliment. Even here in certain areas and certain people groups it is considered a compliment. Culture can impact what is appropriate and what is not.

If the person is a Christian and what they said was Biblically or culturally inappropriate, yes, I would correct or instruct them how God wants us to use edifying words. Gossip is one of those things that is inappropriate communication in any culture because it is Biblically wrong. The book of Proverbs makes that clear. Calling someone fat? That would depend on the culture. The people here do not realize how offensive it is in American culture.

Was their comment intended to be vicious?

Christian or not, I like to also to think about why they may have said what they did. In a blunt culture, sometimes they say things simply because it is true. The sky is blue, the day is hot, you are fat, I don't like your food, and your house is ugly. To them, these statements are all similar. To them, there is nothing to cause offense. It is conversation. If you want to be friends or good neighbors, their opinion should matter.

But... there are some here who say blunt things because of pride. They want to tear a person down because they feel inferior. They cannot afford something. They cannot do something. They cannot be something. In order to compensate, they say something hurtful to injure the "offending" party. This happened with my other neighbor. She is familiar with American culture. She knows being called fat is offensive. She lived in America for a while. 

One day, after I had lost some weight, she said, "Wow. You look like you have put on some weight." (She is also a little overweight.) That wasn't the only time she said something intentionally to "humble" me. What did she think of the house?

"That is a Christian color. We don't paint our houses that color. You only chose that color because you are Christian." We were all totally confused by her statement, but it was clear she didn't approve. She is not a Christian.

What was Buddhi Ama's intent? Just after telling us she didn't like the color, she said, "When you were back in America I couldn't even look at your house because I knew you were not there. It made me sad. I missed you." She held my hand and squeezed. It was a sign of affection. The people rarely have physical contact here, so it made her intent clear.

Buddhi Ama's intent was just conversation among friends. She wanted us to value her input. She had no desire to hurt us.

Is my cultural perspective the reason I am offended?

As an American, I have to understand my own culture, too. The things that may offend me may be culturally based. Americans (by culture) are easily offended. We have pushed political correctness over the past few decades until we can hardly speak without someone getting offended... even if the intent is pure. In American culture, what can be inferred is more important that what is intended. That's why so many public figures have to backtrack and apologize for so many innocent statements that had no ill intent behind them.

In this country, the bigger concern in most situations is intent.

Why would Buddhi Ama call me fat? Well, because she wants me to be healthy! Now, that isn't the intent of everyone who called me fat, but knowing her made it easy to determine her motive.

Is there a way to turn it into a teachable moment that brings the relationship to a new level?

One of the aspects of this culture that is dangerous is the concern of "what will my neighbors think?" With a culture that so freely shares their opinions has also come a great snare... the fear of man.

Proverbs 29:25 "The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe."

I have had many people reject the Gospel because they were afraid of what their neighbors would think. We struggled finding a building to rent for church because people were afraid of what the neighbors would think.

Is my house color a teachable moment even for unbelievers? Absolutely! I can demonstrate the freedom that comes from pleasing God rather than worrying what people will think.

What did I tell Buddhi Ama about our house color?

"I'm sorry you do not like the color. We chose it because it is a common color in America. It hides dirtiness well so the house will look nicer longer. It also matches the stone colors in the railing. Also, we do not want to be like all the other houses. They are all that peach color. We wanted to choose something different. We almost chose the same color of your house, but then we wanted green because I like green."

I showed her that I respected her opinion, but that it was more important to us to choose colors that were practical. It was also important for us not to do things just like everyone else to please everyone else.

Her grandson agreed, and said their house was also kind of dark... unlike all the other houses around our house. Then they offered us tea and said how happy they were that of all the neighbors, we chose to visit with them even though we were so busy.


Lou Ann Keiser said...

"What will the neighbors think?" That is SO TRUE here in Spain, too. The cultural pressure is real, and many times, people will not respond to us, the church, or the gospel because they're worried about others' opinions. Thank God for those who overcome this and come to Christ! Thank you for your faithful ministry. (By the way, you can paint your house any color you like!)

Charity said...

Thankful for you too, sister! Keep pressing forward for His glory!