“Even if you are on your way out of the house and have somewhere to go – if you see someone coming over for a visit, you welcome them. You make them tea. You bring them food. You make sure they are taken care of.”
Nothing comes before honoring and respecting people in Saharawi culture. When a kind man in his 50s told me about this expectation of hospitality above all else, my Western mind really struggled to make sense of it. What if someone were on their way to something important, like a doctor’s appointment, or their job? Yet even that question revealed the deeper values at play, and the difference in priorities between my culture and his. In Saharawi culture, the guest would come before even the doctor’s appointment or job in terms of ‘importance.’
This is just one of many examples of the difference between a communal culture and an individualistic culture. The individualistic culture would leave much allowance and understanding if someone had to make sacrifices on relational grounds for the sake of their individual pursuits. The value we place on punctuality in our jobs, keeping tabs on our health and well-being, and working toward our goals can make it hard to really invest in our community and be available for the people in our lives. In communal cultures, people are interdependent and the expectation is often that relationships and helping one another would take precedence over other sorts of responsibilities.
Each type of culture certainly has its benefits and its limitations, and those aspects would be perceived differently from people of different cultures. One is not necessarily ‘more right’ than the other, and they work because everyone’s expectations and values are shaped to some extent by that culture in which they were raised. Yet taking time to deeply consider the values from the opposite type of culture opens up a great window to grow. As someone from an individualistic culture, hearing about the extent to which Saharawi people care about the people around them prompted me to examine how I personally balance my individual responsibilities and my relationships. Hopefully this examination will help me to be more cognizant about how I value my community in the future, because we individuals need our people more than we often acknowledge.
Post By: Heather Jost, October 6th, 2020