Which of the two above responses to the misbehavior of a child sounds like good parenting to you? Likely the first one. But here, people would likely choose the second one. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not wrong, it’s different.
You see, in my training for moving overseas I learned that there are different ways of dealing with misbehavior in different parts of the world. (And, in case you’re wondering, you can find the gospel addressing all of them in the pages of the Bible.) In the US we work on a basis of guilt and innocence, seeing things as right or wrong. In societies like those in India, they work on a basis of shame and honor, where misbehavior brings shame on the family. And here in Burkina Faso, people work on a basis of fear and power, where what deters you from misbehaving is the fear of those more powerful than you. You can look it up online and find out more if you’re interested.
Anyway, it’s one thing to learn about it in a classroom in the US and another thing to be living in the middle of a different way of looking at life and trying to figure out how to make it work. For example, on Thursdays I help teach 3- to 6-year-olds at my church through a program of Compassion International. Fights often break out, and when you see a child crying the first question asked is, “Who hit him?” But the offender is treated with threats or punishments, never with an explanation that it’s wrong to hit your classmates or throw rocks at them.
Here’s another example. The other day I was at someone’s house, and the mother told her daughter not to drink the juice that was sitting there. The daughter looked at the mother and the juice and the distance between the two, drank some juice and quickly scurried out of reach of the mother’s spanking. Since the mother couldn’t reach her she gave up and the child went unpunished for deliberate disobedience.
I’m coming to see that this way of looking at the world comes into play in many areas of life, including in relationships and at church. Please pray with me as I continue to learn how to live and relate to people here and how to speak the truth of Jesus in a way that they understand.