Another common scenario is the one on the job in which you see a better way of getting the job done than your supervisor instructed. This can be particularly tricky when you are working in a cross-cultural situation. You have probably wondered what you should do in this situation. Should you speak up or should you stay quiet to avoid rocking the boat?
One of the lessons most of us tend to learn in life is that mistakes and missed opportunities are a part of our growth cycle and there will be times when we speak out when we should have remained silent and times when we are silent when to say something would have been appropriate. When you are a foreigner living in a cross-cultural situation, discernment is helpful. Let’s be frank here: Most locals -- anywhere in the world -- do not really like a foreigner coming in and telling them what to do!
Thinking back over the years about times when I practiced silence or when I voiced my opinion, I realize that sometimes I was right when I did so, but other times I should have done it differently. Knowing when to speak is an art developed over time.
Part of knowing when to speak depends on the people involved and their ethics. I read a book by Adam Hamilton recently which deals with political, moral and religious issues that divide America as a nation. In Hamilton’s book, “Seeing Gray: Where Faith and Politics Meet,” he states that there are three primary ways of thinking about and practicing ethics. I want to briefly share these ideas with you:
-- Rules-based ethics: This involves deciding what is right and wrong based upon a set of rules that some authority has given us. People of faith would say this is based on their holy book, be it the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, etc. As a child I was raised by living by the Ten Commandments. The idea of living this way is that people behave ethically by following rules.
-- Outcomes-based ethics: The idea is that no activity is moral or immoral in and of itself. In other words, if you do something that hurts someone else, the act is immoral in that given situation because it hurts someone. But if I do the same thing in another situation and it helps someone, then the act is moral. A very simple practical illustration of this is running red lights in Turkey. I was raised to always stop at red lights. Turkish drivers regularly run red lights. I asked a Turkish friend about this and they said it is not wrong unless you are caught by a camera or the police or have an accident and hurt someone. Following this train of thought, you could say Jesus followed this when he violated Sabbath laws in order to heal a man.
-- Virtues-based ethics: This is when you make decisions based on a set of virtues or values. In every situation, you try to do what those virtues call you to do. Hamilton explains in his book that this method of doing ethics can be problematic if the source and selection of the virtues are not trustworthy and true. For me, based on my role model’s virtues, serving and loving and forgiving or showing mercy are all virtues.
I regularly receive letters from expats describing situations they are concerned about and do not know how to handle.
I think for those of you who have written to me I will share these words which may provide guidance on how to handle a situation -- that is, when to say something and when to be silent.
From “The Face in the Glass” by Dale Wimbrow*:
“For it isn’t your father or mother, or spouse
Whose judgment you must pass.
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.”
*This poem has been adapted from its original, “The Guy in the Glass.”
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org