(This post is building upon my previous one titled, “My most awkward 20 minutes. . . and culturally rich weddings”. . . you might want to read it first if you have not already.)
I love seeing the various elements of culture which are present in weddings from different places around the world. It really is fun seeing the pageantry of differing customs brought to bear in the ceremonies.
Chinese weddings have a rich tradition of both elegance and in light-hearted humor intertwined in the ceremonies. I especially like how the Chinese wedding ceremony goes to great lengths to honor the parents of the bride and groom. There is a “tea ceremony” in each wedding. This is where it is as if the parents are put on a pedestal in the acknowledgement that they have been central in their child’s life up to this point in time. It is really nice.
Thinking about these experiences and in my life of 10+ years of living, studying, and working overseas, three thoughts come to mind. . .
Cultural diversity in weddings (and life) is stressful at times
A great example of this is of me at Marcus’ wedding (click here if you have not read it). This was a case of differences in cultures at play. I would be lying if I said it didn’t cause me stress. However, in the end, it was an incredible wedding of which I was honored to be a part.
Last year, I was in a wedding here in Asia. One of my other friends was an usher. He had no idea that it is no problem in this country for people to walk around in the back of the room during the actual ceremony. Even during the wedding processional, it is not considered rude to walk around. Well my friend, an American, was about to have a coronary trying to make people sit down and shut up. Thankfully someone told him about this difference in wedding customs before he ticked off one of the couple’s family or friends.
Along the same lines, working and living cross-culturally is very stressful at times, especially regarding communication. Confusion and the potential for insult and hurt are around every corner.
I have been on work teams that have consisted of five different nationalities. We have to constantly work hard to communicate in ways that everyone understands. Linguistics is not always the challenge. Most of the time our cultural differences are.
The core of all weddings (and people) is the same, regardless of the culture
At the core of every wedding I have ever attended are two simple values. First, the man and woman love each other and are committed to each other. This does not change anywhere (at least where I have been). This is the entire foundation of why people get married in any and all cultures. Second, at the core of every wedding is an element of the value of collective family and/or community involvement. Weddings acknowledge the importance of those around the bride and groom. The practices of certain rituals and points of celebration vary wildly, but these two core values are the same everywhere.
The same can be said in working and living cross-culturally. We all have certain core values that must be respected. Our American founding fathers would say, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Not disagreeing, but I think we can make a few more basic statements that are true for all people.
We all want to love and be loved. We all want to feel a measure of respect and personal value. We all want the best for our kids. No one WANTS to be a failure in life and work.
When (not if) miscommunication and cultural stress sets in, it is always important to see and respect the core values in others, as we desire the same to be extended towards us. This seems fundamental, yet it is so easy to overlook.
Cultural diversity in weddings (and life) offers the possibility of pulling the best from multiple cultures
I love going to Christian weddings in Asia. There are traditional elements derived from thousands of years of Asian history. Alongside of this, there is Christian tradition, which is also rooted in history, but is new to this country. For the ceremony, the bride and groom are able to pick and choose from the best of both worlds.
Along the same lines, I love living and working within a cross-cultural context for this reason. Each culture and location I have ever lived in have unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s wonderful to be able to learn from cultures and hopefully implement their strengths while looking past our innate weaknesses.
The greatest gift I received from my public school education in Atlanta was in the diversity of my class. Our school was diverse in every way imaginable, racially, economically, educationally, and socially. Not only did I learn from the diversity of my classmates, I loved this environment. So much so that I actually chose Georgia Tech as my college partially because it offered true diversity of students (excluding diversity of gender!).
Just as cross-cultural weddings are able to bring into play the beauty of diverse traditions centered around the core values of all weddings, so we are able to benefit from cultural diversity in all areas of life and work. There are unique challenges to cross-cultural working, living, and in relationships. However, the richness and joy that comes with true, diverse friendships, working, and living environments far outweighs the challenges.
It takes much more front end work, yet I can honestly say that the payoff is well beyond the trouble. Bringing in thoughts, styles, attitudes, and experiences, when done well, is extraordinary.
We live in a global world with global problem of which require global solutions and ways of doing things. I am more and more convinced that only in true cultural diversity can you arrive to a point of real, lasting impact at a societal level.