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Ramblings on changing culture, Americans, and humility

Posted on 5/1/2014 by

So much of our work here is in direct opposition to local culture. Most of what we seek to do is in conflict with some of the most basic cultural beliefs.

From the desk of an anonymous author:

So much of our work here is in direct opposition to local culture.  We are trying to change what we see as destructive habits.  But culture is essentially our habits built on our worldview, our beliefs.  In Ob Anggen we want the girls to be treated with the same dignity and respect as the boys, but that means a change in the belief that girls are essentially property to be owned by men through a transaction known as bride price which is a massive cultural pillar.  But slavery was a pillar in most of the world until it started to become unpopular 150 years ago.  When a human has a “price” on their head they are a fugitive or a slave.   Bummer is that outlawing bride price doesn’t really change how women are treated; beliefs are much deeper than rules and beliefs control what we do. 

We want our school and the families of our students to be safe places that impart courage and truth.  This requires a radical change from the traditional childrearing techniques of fear and deception.   Papua is awash with money but it is doing more damage than good.  Teaching stewardship and money management is directly opposed to the secret, instant and magical paths to wealth that the animistic worldview promotes.  We want to help stop the AIDS epidemic and other health disasters but that requires a change in beliefs, sickness is not all caused by spiritual powers.  Science is in direct opposition to Animism.   Most of what we seek to do is in conflict with some of the most basic cultural beliefs. 

But this is the age of cultural sensitivity - publicly admitting what I have just written is more prone to shame than coming out of the closet.  But it is true and everybody is doing it even if they won’t admit it.  Those that believe we shouldn't interfere with others’ beliefs would like to influence me to change my beliefs about changing other people’s beliefs.   

But I find rest knowing  that I am directly opposed to as much of my culture as I am of Papuan culture and that we all need others to help us see our own destructive habits that we are blind to.  All cultures are flawed from history to present.  Our job is not to turn cultures into sacred cows but to redeem and refine, burning away the impurities and leaving the beauty and goodness.  But it is scary to think we know how to refine something as big and ancient and complex as culture.  It is like pulling rocks out of a wall never knowing if it is all going to come tumbling down. 

Today I was overcome by the irony of us Americans desperately trying to keep other nations from human trafficking, wiping out their aboriginals and indigenous species while starting orphanages everywhere. Sort of like bank robbers, after getting fabulously rich for decades with all that wealth stored up in assets and retirement plans, suddenly becoming crusaders against bank robbery. After all it is pretty hard to find a buffalo, beaver or Blackfoot Indian in America anymore. Pretty hard to deny that we kill more babies than most of the world and we have been some of the greatest human traffickers of all time. Not sure we have the right to go into other countries with such pride and condemnation about their policies. Not saying I should drop my worry for the extinction of the highlanders, not saying we shouldn’t seek to change beliefs and behaviors about aboriginals, indigenous species, human trafficking or abortion.  But maybe we need to approach it with more humility, or at least I do.

I often charge into the fray condemning and judging the evil abusers of humanity when it might be more appropriate for me, the American, to come in with head bowed.  To speak the truth but with more humility; aware of my own checkered past, understanding how the majority of the world sees right through me. 

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