The subtitle of Serving with Eyes Wide Open is “Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence”. The purpose of the book is to introduce the concept of “cultural intelligence” to those who serve on short-term mission teams or relate to other people cross-culturally. Globalization and multi-national corporations give a sense of oneness because of the ubiquity of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Nike, but we need to be aware of vast cultural and world-view differences among various peoples. Livermore includes examples of unintentional mistakes that short-term volunteers make because of their lack of cultural sensitivity. An example is given where a volunteer reported after spending ten days in Africa, that Africans are generally more happy because they smile more. The association between smiling and happiness, as well as generalizing a whole continent after only a few observations, reveals a lack of “cultural intelligence.”
While pointing out the myriad of mistakes made by short-term teams, Livermore does not despair, but gives several tools to help volunteers make fewer mistakes. For example, observing how people from other cultures handle time (event time vs. clock time), individualism (personal vs. corporate), and power distance (treating all people generally the same vs. treating people of a higher or lower status very differently) all help cross-cultural communicators begin to understand differences in culture. Being aware of these differences will increase understanding and help short-term teams make fewer cultural blunders.
Livermore summarizes some practical advice for anyone learning to communicate cross-culturally:
- Be aware of your own assumptions, ideas, and emotions as you engage cross-culturally.
- Look for ways to discover the assumptions of others through their words and behavior.
- Use all your senses to read a situation rather than just hearing the words or seeing the nonverbal.
- View every situation from several different perspectives with an open mind.
- Create new categories/paradigms for seeing things.
- Seek out fresh information to confirm or reevaluate new categories.
- Use empathy to try to identify with the other culture.
Serving with Eyes Wide Open is a great book for people who communicate cross-culturally, take part in short-term missions teams, or for those who train and lead short-term teams.