Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Sharing negatives?

From an anonymous reader: What are your thoughts about sharing stories on blogs and from other public platforms about some of the shocking and less attractive sides of your home country? My husband and I recently had a discussion about this after finding out that often times our public pre-schools do not have toilet paper for the children. (When it’s out, it’s out until the next allotment comes in.) He thought this would be an interesting cultural fact to share with our friends back home, but I felt it would be talking ill of our host country even though it is true. It opened up a long discussion about what is more important in our communication about life here; is portraying an accurate picture of where we live (including these less than attractive things) most valuable, or is helping people to form a better opinion of this country and in my thought perhaps a greater capacity to love the people here more important (we live in a country often not thought of very highly by Americans). What is your personal view of how to publicly speak of your host country? Is your aim to give an accurate representation that encompasses the good and bad, do you steer more towards the good to perhaps try to help people correct wrong stereotypes, or maybe do you focus more on what is broken to help inspire compassion? How do you decide?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at fylliska@gmail.com. Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)


  1. Wow, what an INTERESTING question. In general I try to speak highly of my host country and share it's good points, but I do sometimes share the negatives, or at least the challenges about being here, so people can understand.

    But mainly I try to keep in mind my national friends, and what THEY would think of what I'm sharing about their country. Strangely I perhaps think of this more than the perception of my friends and family back home.I have close national friends and I know it hurts and offends them to hear us speak negatively about their country.

    I for sure steer away anything negative related to personal safety when talking to my family.

    I'll be looking for other responses. Great question.

  2. I have several Lojano friends who also follow my blog and facebook so I am extra careful to view my words through their eyes.
    However, I do try to paint an accurate picture of my host country. I talk about how load the Karaoke bars and fireworks are and laugh about all the dog poo on the sidewalk. I know this will not offend them because they know very well that I think Loja is a bit of heaven on earth.
    I take care to note which things they are proud of and make sure to never cast those in a negative light (even though I find it amusing and/or disgusting) but I might mention it as a cultural difference.

    Lojanos are often amused at the differences they see in me. Once I gave them a taste of my Waldorf Salad. "Ugh. Gringo food" was their response through their laughter at me for eating nuts in my chicken salad. They understand that the things they do are often humorous to me... and to the people back home.

    I wouldn't hesitate to post about toilet paper, but I would be very careful about the wording.

    "Difference 3001: When the school is out of toilet paper for the month- plan to pack some in Jenny's backpack"

    is very different from:

    "There are some things I will never get used to- my kids not having toilet paper in school is one of them. Schools should AT LEAST provide basic necessities."

    1. This is a great point! I love the way you bring up the toilet paper so diplomatically! ha ha ha. That's a great way of putting it. I carry kleenex (substitute toilet paper) most of the time. :-)

  3. i agree with becka and we try to take a similar approach - a gentle poking fun at the situation. it communicates your reality, but also shows that you are ok with learning how to deal with that reality.

    another strategy we use is to try and tell about some of those differences from a culturally sensitive position - in a way that opens eyes to different worldviews and differing perspectives due to culture. so when we talk about how the church here deals with more than one wife... or eating meat literally offered to idols... or even some of the recent demonstrations that have occurred in our area due to world events... we try to look at those events through the eyes of our friends, neighbors, brothers & sisters.

    i've also loved posting about our ladies' bible study in recent months. passages that i've always only looked at with my western glasses are taking new life as i listen to these ladies talk about what they see and understand from their more eastern perspective.

    thus, overall we try to communicate that 1) some things are very different; 2) some of those differences are hard and make us uncomfortable and challenge us; 3) some of those differences are refreshing and beautiful and we actually prefer them to what we are used to experiencing; 4) we can all learn together; 5) different does not have to be bad or wrong - and when God reveals that it is, we need to work together with our friends, seeking God's solution.

  4. This is a great question...and a hard one...I wonder about this. Just before our last home assignment, I had gotten the idea from another missionary to make a couple online picture books, one specifically about my kids' life so they could share it. I saw a "template" for one about lessons learned from a child and changed it to lessons learned from living in our country. I found it was a way to express some of the differences in a more positive light by mentioning how we have learned from them...like with something about how there is no toilet paper, it is a reminder to appreciate the little things in life and not take them for granted.

  5. I would not share anything that I wouldn't want a local friend to hear me saying about her/his country. Our perspectives on "norms" are only that--OUR perspectives.

    Joy in Nepal

  6. I just love all of your thoughts and practical ideas! They are so great! I usually err on the side of sharing positives, but I really enjoyed the great perspective that you guys shared. I like the idea of being able to speak positively and also truthfully and like the different ways that you go about it. I'll have to try some of those! I feel like it is easier for me to find ways to speak about the uniquenesses when I know my audience (like at face-to-face gatherings in the US). I feel like relatively often I find out people who read our family blog that I didn't even know knew it existed, so I am always wanting to be extra careful since I don't know who reads what i write and never want to accidentally offend. I actually accidentally sent our blog address to my entire gmail contact list once by mistake when I was only intending to send it to my prayer team! Ah! I was thankful that there weren't too many things up there that couldn't be read by anyone (though I never like the people that we minister to, especially the non-believers, to read things about themselves on our blog. Awkward!) I have also heard a number of nationals talk about how hurtful complaining missionaries can be, and I definitely don't want to damage our witness or hurt my friends in that way. But I agree so much that there are things that would be beneficial to share with friends back "home" that might even encourage people and challenge perspectives and faith. I guess it is also just one of those things where we just need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us.