Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Proverbs & Culture

Russian Proverb:
If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it.

Chinese Proverb:
Don't depend on heaven for food, but on your own two hands carrying the load.

During training to become Peace Corps volunteers, we went through several sessions on cultural differences.  The purpose was to help us understand the thoughts, motives and actions of others so we could effectively carry out our work in a context quite distinct from that which many of us were accustomed to.  One topic that stuck with me was locus of control.  A person who has a high internal locus of control believes that they have the control to change events based on their actions and behaviors.  Someone with with a high external locus of control relies more on fate, and believes that chance or some higher power determines events.  North Americans generally have a high external locus of control, believing that if they study enough, work hard and don't give up they can achieve their dreams and be successfull.  Even those of us who believe in God still lean in the direction that we were given the capacity to look for or create our own opportunities.  The tendency in Guatemala is definitely more passive, noted with a high use of the phrases "si Dios quiere/manda" (if God wants/wills) or "primeramente a Dios" (first to God, used in my region when talking about if something will happen or not).  For me it's been interesting (and perhaps frustrating at times!) to see how this plays out in work and social situations.  Generalizing a bit, I can many times trace a lack of initiative, lack of future planning and the inability to own up to responsibility to this cultural trait.  

Going back to the two proverbs above, maybe that explains a bit of the difference between the Russians and the Chinese...

Where do you find yourself on the spectrum?


  1. Our laid-backness hit us today as we missed our flight to Bermuda by 15 minutes! So where does that put us?

  2. oh no! that's too bad. i think it's probably due to all those years you spend outside the states. i take things much more tranquilo now than i used to...hopefully that doesn't come to haunt me when (or if) i head back to the states after this :)