Missionaries must respond positively to cultural dissonance for good outcomes

Missionaries, actually anyone interacting with another person or people group, must respond positively to cultural dissonance to ensure good outcomes in their exchange with other cultures. Consider the following chart and read the explanation below…

Cultural Dissonance Chart

This is an explanation of the cultural dissonance chart that my daughter gave to me, that was presented at an IVCF camp this summer. The definition of dissonance is, “lack of agreement; especially : inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one’s actions and one’s beliefs” (

This chart is what happens when you are in a community that you are not a part of. It can apply in any social environment that you do not consider “home”.  When you enter into an unfamiliar culture, you encounter different values, mores, and people who have come from different backgrounds, backgrounds that you are not familiar with. There are two ways to enter into the foreign culture. How we approach others is called our personal entry posture. How are you bracing yourself for the cultural encounter? The first way is with openness, acceptance, trust and adaptability. The second way is with suspicion, fear, superiority, and prejudice.

For anyone facing such a cultural interaction, both groups of people will inevitably face cultural differences. As they approach different people, they will face certain challenges that are not avoidable. They must be faced. When they enter into the cultural differences, they will experience dissonance. Their own beliefs will be challenged. There will be lack of agreement and understanding between the two people groups. Both groups will experience frustration, misunderstanding, confusion, tension, embarrassment, and aggression towards the other.

But the difference is how each group deals with these emotional challenges. These are called personal coping skills. The first group responds with observing, inquiring, listening and initiating relationship building. The second group responds with criticizing, rationalizing their relational issues, and they isolate themselves from the contact group.

The outcomes are as varied as the reactions. The first group develops understanding. They exhibit empathy and their relationships deepen. This is a very good outcome and leads to co-operation. The second group experiences alienation and withdrawal and must now live with broken relationships.

An important thing to remember is that in this cultural exchange, you are always changed and changing. If you have not isolated yourself completely, then the cycle continues over and over. Those who have experienced alienation, withdrawal and broken relationships can renew their approach in a more positive posture which can result with understanding, empathy and deepening of relationships.



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