by Irini Fambro
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here >
I will not play Monopoly. Okay, let me rephrase that…I will not play Monopoly with my husband. You see I grew up playing Monopoly by the written rules of the game. In my family we may have put all of the tax money and other fees in free parking to collect if you landed there, but other than that, we played by the written rules.
My husband on the other hand played by a different set of rules. He is a real estate developer; he plays monopoly for a living. If you can do it in real life, you can do it in a boardgame. Want to bargain an opponent for a property and include free rent as a part of the deal? Go for it. Looking to go in on a partnership of a property? Absolutely. Can you negotiate for a loan from another player for interest? Brilliant. Same game, different rules. Same game, different norms. But, ultimately the same game is not the same game if played in different family cultures.
Pull up a chair at another family’s table and you will quickly pick up on a set of unwritten rules that exist for board games, conversations, disagreements, and more. Those who can function and manage those environments well are more than just adaptable, flexible, and perceptive – they are smart, culturally smart. Culture, whether international, organizational, or environmental, are the places around an individual that operate under a set of rules (known or unknown). Being able to navigate these cultural environments is an intelligence: cultural intelligence.
The Apostle Paul was culturally intelligent. When visiting Athens, “his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16, NASB). He talked to the people in the synagogue, in the market place, and the philosophers of the city. Each conversation gave him cultural intel into the environment around him. The people demanded that he would explain to them his thoughts through their own cultural understanding, their idols at the Areopagus. Paul didn’t dismantle all their idols; he chose to capitalize on what they worshipped in ignorance and unpack this “unknown God” they had labeled an idol. Instead of arguing over all the other idols, Paul amplified the one idol they lacked understanding about. Through cultural intelligence, Paul was able to translate the gospel through their cultural language. Brilliant!
Being culturally smart is an actual intelligence. Cultural intelligence is a sophisticated intelligence because it involves several other intelligences. Think about it, when you observe a culture you are aware of
• your thoughts, emotions, and experiences,
• the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of others, and also
• the environmental expectations of thought and emotions.
That is one complex intelligence. Are you aware of the cultural norms that you walk into? Can you build a bridge from your norms to theirs? You are smarter than you think: culturally intelligent.
There isn’t a circumstance that you encounter that does not have a cultural aspect to it – the culture has either already existed or is being created. Families, businesses, churches, and communities all have their own cultures. Cultural intelligence helps us to make decisions and solve problems in every circumstance.
Here are some questions I ask when brainstorming, decision-making, or problem-solving through the lens of cultural intelligence:
1. Does this decision reinforce my/their cultural norms? Is that a good thing?
2. Does this decision challenge my/their cultural norms? Is it worth it?
3. Are there cultural norms I am ignoring in this decision?
4. Are there new cultural norms trying to be created in this decision?
5. How am I prepared to create a language to build that new cultural norm?
6. What is an appropriate time allowance for this cultural norm to really become a norm?
With the advancement of technology, the world has become a global village. Culturally intelligent individuals are needed more than ever. They hold the tension of the norms in a situation and any opposing norms and build a bridge between the two. God calls us to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation, and he’s given his church gifts of cultural intelligence to help. No-one has a monopoly on intelligence: yours is needed to fulfil God’s purpose.
Irini Fambro is a wife and mother, teacher and student, speaker and listener. She and her high school love, Kenneth, have two children: Kalila and Kenneth. She is an ordained minister that has her Masters of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and just recently finished her PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University.