Lies and Truth: A Cultural Lesson

3096824402_4fe6eeb569Part of the workshop that I am facilitating this week has naturally been about culture since we have 12 different cultures represented.  I think every culture has the propensity to put blinders on about their own culture.  Sometimes this is intentional and other times culture is so intertwined into life that it is not seen or ignored.

When we talked and dialogued about such topics as relationship killers, mediating conflict, and grieving, many of those cutlural differences came to the surface like carbonation in an RC Cola.  One of the topics where culture arose was on the topic of trust busters, or those actions that serve to damage or spoil a relationship.  One principle in particular that most Americans hold as a high value is honesty.  Honesty is an American or Western way to build trust into a relationship, whereas lying breaks trust.  Media of all sorts comment how elected officials are not honest.  We deride our family and friends if they are not honest .  Honesty is huge!!

One of the participants in our workshop pointed out that honesty is not as high a value in Senegalise culture.  He said there is a saying that goes something like this: “A lie that unites is better than a truth that divides.”  This shook me up when I first heard it.  After a while, though, I began to process the meaning of this statement and realized that their value system is high on relationships not honesty.  The Senegalise (and possible many Africans, although I hesitate to generalize across too much of Africa as it is a large continent) would rather be untruthful and maintain a friendship than be honest breaking a relationship.

This brought up much discussion in our workshop.  I wonder what you think?  Which value system do you hold to, honesty or relationship?  Can we Westerners learn something from the Senegalise?

Alan

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Lies and Truth: A Cultural Lesson

  1. Isn’t this similar to how you would answer your wife if she said do I look fat in this dress!

    • So, you’re saying that we should try to be as Senegalise as possible???

      • not sure we should overgeneralize, but sometimes it’s better to find things we agree on first before we can talk about the areas we feel will cause stress on the relationship.

      • Yeah, I think what the Senegalise do is really quite special in this way. They care more about the person and hurting him or her than saying what is the truth. But it is a balance and it is cultural.

      • Myra

        Yes, a balance in context and in culture with honesty and truth v lies in fact, belief, or opinion (but with fact and belief having the weight and the danger when it comes to lying). The silencing of harmful/hurtful/painful truths does not truly equate to a lie, but from a cultural perspective, as in Western culture, it often does in context and with much personal anguish. Also, as Christians, to believe in any other Savior than Christ Jesus is a lie, and a harmful/dangerous one, but others will argue that it is a false belief. Even when we discuss Biblical truths, we have to consider the culture. In classroom and general discussions of the Bible, I usually define the Bible as a culturally conditioned capsule of timeless truths. Thus, when providing Biblical counsel, we are faced with questioning our own cultural understandings of the Bible. Thank God that God understands all His creation and children.

      • “…culturally conditioned capsule of timeless truths…” This might be one of the best definitions of the Bible I’ve heard yet.

  2. Ellen Gee

    Perhaps silence is sometimes the best route. As American’s, we too often think everything must be said. Every opinion voiced.

    Maybe it’s wiser to ponder the cost to a relationship before we decide to “spend the truth.” Maybe that’s true Senegalise.

    I’m grateful for your good internet!

  3. mindy

    It is cultural for them, yet would fall into the category of things that Christ would transform in those who become His followers…because honesty in any context falls under the category of God’s standards before it falls under the cultural category. God IS Truth, specifically Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. He said to Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world: to testify to what the truth is.” Anyhoo…all that to say that it’s pretty obvious that a lie goes against not only God’s standards but His character…which we are being transformed into the image of if we are His. Thus, the value behind the practice of lying (wanting unity) would have to find other ways to be obtained. Coincidentally, the value of unity has no conflict with being a follower of Jesus; it’s right in line with what He prayed about for us. He wants us to be one as He and the Father are one. I would probably choose to affirm the desire for unity in respecting the Senegalese culture as opposed to the way they’re going after the unity they want.

    • Thanks for your comments, Mindy. It is interesting to see how God transforms cultures, ours and theirs. I only hope we can be as gracious to other cultures like the Senegalese as God has been to us and our culture.

  4. Alan and Tywonn I love reading your blogs! So much to think about when in my world I am just trying to make it through the day without an 8yr old and a middle schooler annihilating one another (had to look up the word in order to spell it:)

    Realationship is definately high on the list of things I value, so this is an excellent question to ponder. I Like the silence option in the previous comments and the fact that God is Truth and we should reflect that.

    For me it comes down to influence and permission. I know the relationships in which I have been given permission to speak into the life of the person and have learned to distinguish the times when I should remain silent or neutral. Permission to speak the truth in Love. In these instances I have spent time developing trust and beleive that not speaking the truth would damage the relationship and break the ground gained by trust. (especially in my culture which right now seems to be on middle school terms which I am coming to realize is in a class all to itself)
    I guess the definition of relationship would help here. What different cultures value in relationships and the qualities they look for vary so much.

    Truth without Love is a waste of time.

  5. Tywonn

    I’m not sure the Africans would call it lying. I think they see it as not disappointing us. They say what they think we want to hear. It’s like the plumber saying he’ll come to fix the toilet tomorrow when he really can’t come for several days. Unfortunately, this means we stay home and wait around for him.

  6. Myra

    I think that we should examine the definition of “truth” a little more. As one of the other commentators alluded, we (American Westerners) often see our opinions as valuable truth. My mother is from the Philippines and one of her cultural attributes is her ability to not tell a hurtful “truth,” but to share a kind word instead; it is another way of imparting knowledge that allows others to find truths.

    • Myra–I was talking with someone today about the definition of truth and lies. These definitely need to be defined culturally and generationally. What is truth in one culture is not in another culture or generation.

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  8. Dianne

    It has taken me this long to think about this subject. My thought or question is who decides what is a small lie, a medium lie, and an intolerable lie. To me honesty would be best. We just need to be more tactful when discussing others’ choices of clothing, etc. There is a saying “Say what you mean, Mean what you say”. Perhaps we need to think before speaking. If we can be honest with each other there would be no need to lie.

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