Dave Scherer, Contextual Learning Associate
Just a few short years ago, I could not run around the small lake by my house without having to walk and rest. Recently, however, I ran the Chicago Marathon and didn’t stop once. How did this happen? Practice! Practice! Practice! I have discovered that my journey of intercultural competence (of which I am very much still a beginner) and my journey of marathon running have many similarities. Here are a few that I have discovered:
You do not start overnight with mastery
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”-Martin Luther
The goal of intercultural competency is to be able to build bridges across cultural difference by behaving appropriately and authentically. There is no quick fix that can help you accomplish this without putting in hard developmental work. Only approximately 15% of people in the world have had any formal intercultural competence training, and many of us live and work in relatively monocultural spaces. That means most of us are just beginners in this work. We have to be gentle with ourselves and maintain a learner’s posture. As we listen and grow, God will expand our hearts and our skill level so that we can do this work more and more effectively. We don’t have to run a marathon right in this moment, but we are called to take the first step.
You can learn from failure
I have had embarrassing moments when I said or did the wrong thing and was sent into a paralyzing shame spiral. During some of these moments, I was unable to glean the lesson that was awaiting me on the other side of my “failure”. Neuroscientists have taught us that guilt, blame, and shame all shut down the developmental part of our brain. Wonder, joy, and celebration will open up our brains to learning. What if we approached failure as an opportunity to go deeper in this work instead of letting it stunt our growth? Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron says, “It is impossible to learn and look good at the same time”. We are not going to always show up the way that we would like to. That is inevitable. What is important is not that we find perfection, but that we find development. It’s not whether we lose but whether we stay in the race that matters.
You have to keep your eyes on the goal
Through my own work as a Qualified Administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), I am required to have my own personal Intercultural Development Plan (IDP). Through this process I can determine my own personal reason for engaging in this work, as well as articulating my desired outcomes moving forward. This becomes a roadmap for me as I continue in my development. Without having a plan in place like this, it is very difficult for individuals and organizations to “move the needle”. It is not just our own plan that is leading us forward. We also read about a God whose plan includes a banquet of all peoples (Isaiah 25:6). God’s dream for humanity always needs to be in our minds and hearts as we live into God’s preferred future of shalom for all of creation. This will help us stay resilient when we want to give up.
We don’t do this alone
After you have set some goals, it is important to find others who will lovingly hold you accountable to your plan. There are professional intercultural coaches that can help you develop these skills. But there are also friends and family in your community that will join you on this journey and encourage you along the way. Find a community of practice with whom you can be vulnerable. Find other people in your same field that are trying to operationalize God’s welcome in their context. Borrow ideas. Share ideas. And remember this, the God of the universe has called you to this work. The “dynamis” power of the Holy Spirit lives inside of you and is capable of “even greater things” (John 14:12). You don’t have to win. God has already defeated the oppressive forces of sin. You get an opportunity to run in response to God’s overwhelming grace. Enjoy the race!