Ever considered a person or group from another culture and thought that they were lazy, unmotivated, or wasters-of-time? Sherwood Lingenfelter shares a helpful story in Ministering Cross-Culturally.
When he hired Palauan men to build his house on the Micronesian Island of Yap, he was dismayed to watch as these men would work for an hour, then take a break for an hour to talk and chew betel nut, working only half of the time that they were present to do their work. Although Lingenfelter was dismayed by this sight, the men were able to finish the house on time, although they had to hire extra men to do the work.
While “lazy” might be the first label to come to mind for task-oriented Westerners, Lingenfelter explains the logic the Palauans’ actions. Rather than task-oriented, they are person-oriented. A priority for the person-oriented is interaction with others. Chewing betel nut and talking with others was as or more important to these Palauans than completing the house quickly.
Lingenfelter provides a further explanation for this kind of behaviour. On an island like Palau or Yap, there is no reason rush building a home, because the weather is warm and hospitable year-round. Lingenfelter recalls how his neighbour’s process of building a home would include days of fishing, helping others with their projects, or doing nothing at all. There was no need to hurry because there was no approaching winter; as long as he had a place to shelter him from the rain, he was fine.
The weather had a significant impact on this man’s schedule, but also on his goals. Relationships were important because the weather event that could cause disruption was a typhoon. After a typhoon, there could be widespread damage and debris all over the place. At this moment it is important to have network of contacts who can chip in to help do the work that is too much for one person alone, and to do this at many places throughout the community.
As Lingenfelter repeatedly stresses, it is important to suspend and avoid judgment of other cultures. In fact, if we consider that our Lord Jesus was often more focussed on people and relationships than on tasks and time, we will try to understand and even embrace the way of life of those whom we first thought were lazy.