I have struggled understanding how certain things work here. At times I am unable to figure out why people do certain things. “What motivates them to do that?” I ask myself.
Over my time here I have often explained to Kenyans how life is very different in USA. I continue to tell them that, while often confusing at first, there is an easy way to figure it out. Follow the money. It is a sad commentary on my culture, but fairly plain most of the time. If you want to figure something out, follow the money. This actually makes laws and regulations easier. There is a common currency for motivating people, and the currency is currency.
Not so here. Money is often a motivator, but not nearly the root cause as it commonly is in USA. Why is that? What is different?
The conclusion I have come to after 3 years here is that it is not really about money anywhere. It is, just about always, about standing in the community. It is just that in USA, one’s standing in their community is most often expressed in dollars.
We require social interaction. This is why the author of Hebrews wanted to make sure people continued doing it in the church (Heb 10:25). Fellowship is often mentioned in the New Testament. God made us social creatures. It is a fact of our nature that we have to belong to a community. It is from that starting point that the fallen man takes hold. Pride enters the equation and it no longer becomes about fellowship, but our place in that community.
“How do I raise my standing in the community?” The majority of man’s actions can be accounted for by that simple question. (The other big one is man seeking comfort for himself.) Agape love should be a motivator, but that happens in far too rare circumstances.
If you want to understand a culture, you must first understand how it determines the standing of its members. The outward appearance is the first thing that usually places someone, physical traits, clothing, hair etc.. Here, shoes are a huge factor. What kind of shoes is he wearing? How old are they? Are they clean? Many times I have greeted someone to find them taking a quick glance at my feet. My skin color here also has a lot of meaning, which, fortunately for me, makes up for my lack of “taste” in shoes (I am motivated by that other thing, comfort, when it comes to shoes.) In some groups tattoos raise their standing while in others it lowers it. How you behave is also has a lot to do with it. Look around sometime, you can identify many different communities that measure people in different ways.
This becomes really important when it comes to sharing the gospel with someone. You need to identify what community they come from and know how that community measures people. Of course the gospel is good and necessary for everyone regardless from where they come. However, if you are going to bring the gospel to them you have to do it in such a way (culturally translate it) that it is presented as superior to what they have now. Otherwise you are just going to inoculate them against the gospel. This can be very difficult if someone’s community is completely based in something antithetical to the gospel.
The gospel is superior, but that is a difficult sell to the guy down the street with the forehead callus. His standing in the community will be severely affected. You can make similar observations with people of most faiths as their standing in their community is often tied to their beliefs.
What is your standing in your community? How much time and effort do you spend on trying to raise that position? Would that time and resources be better spent another way? I know it would… but we all do it. We can be different. In fact, we are commanded to be:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2 NKJV