Making the “Love Languages” Cross Cultural

If you’re ever heard of the “Five Love Languages” concept, you probably know about its popularity and worldwide reach. The love languages books have been translated into 50 languages around the world, but are they all applicable to other cultures?

Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Acts of Service are the five ways that identified by the author Gary Chapman. The idea is that different people have different pathways in which they receive and give love. Meeting the needs of those in your life according to their way of receiving love is the main thrust of the concept.

For the most part, I think these five “languages” cover a broad spectrum of human need in relationships, but they aren’t entirely translatable cross cultures.

First example, in some Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, directly giving words of affirmation is very awkward and not well received. Praising that person to a third party else is more highly valued when they hear about what you said about them through the grapevine.

Secondly, public physical affection between spouses or romantic partners is also taboo. Holding hands walking down the street is scandalous. Even physical touch (hugs) between brothers and sisters are not common. These are two love languages which are dominant in the West, but much less prevalent in non-Western cultures.

I’d like to add a couple more “love languages” which I see as being central and unique to non-Western cultures.

Food

I believe this one has the weight to stand on its own. If you’ve ever had relationships with folks from a non-Western culture, you understand how important food is. Food is a shared experience. Sitting to eat together is a bonding experience in every culture, but the fast food mentality of the West has degraded its depth. In cultures like India, the time and effort put into cooking a meal for another person communicates depths of love, duty and respect for the person. Not offering to serve someone drink or food is a direct insult. The acts of serving food and sharing food are mediums of building and maintaining strong relationships.

Respecting family

Respecting the family of one’s significant other, particularly in honor/shame cultures, is an overlooked approach to showing love to one’s spouse in the “Love Languages.” For example, making an effort to get along with a spouse’s family and understanding the interconnectedness of family relationships is an important part of many non-Westerners lives.

In many cultures, the joint family system is hinged on the importance of a new spouse getting along with all the other family members. If the daughter-in-law and mother-in law don’t get along, the husband/wife relationship is in trouble. Likewise, this can be said for building love in non-romantic relationships. A wife showing respect for her husband can build love between her and her mother-in-law. A father teaching a child to respect and honor his grandparents shows love to his parents on a different dimension.

Showing love to one’s spouse who lives in a communal society looks very different from the Western approach. Saying to your spouse “I love you because you are smart” may not have an affect. But showing love by cooking for a spouse’s parents speaks much louder to non-Western minds.

The Love Languages are a great concept and have undoubtedly helped millions of folks from non-Western countries improve their relationships, but pointing out the nature of indirect communication and the importance of family networks is crucial to making it a truly global concept.

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Rachel Dolezal is a Product of Extreme Individualism

America is individualism to the extreme. We let the “self” define everything. To us, societal and family ties mean very little compared to other parts of the world where you are defined by your group. In the West, we have this idea that we are the author of our own future, our identity and fate. Some of this is good, but when we take it too far.

There are some cultural trends in Western culture, which in my opinion, have swung in a negative direction:

  • Pursuit of the individual over community (family, group of origin)
  • Breaking from tradition, just for the sake of it

Family – We white people are particularly guilty of this. In general, in many white communities, we seek autonomy with our parents. Parents become friends rather than someone designed to be in authority over us. Respect for parents is considered to be antiquated,  only for the small-minded and religious zealots.

Tradition – We have decided that it is fashionable to break from tradition just for the sake of breaking from tradition. Many people would do anything else rather than to follow the religion of their parents.

How did our culture become such that each person becomes an individual molder of their own identity?

How do other cultures handle individualism?

Lets consider a place like India- where billions are born into a caste and die in that caste. Nothing can change that. In Indian culture, the young are free to pursue careers to a certain extent, but in many cases, the individual does not have power to make individual choices. Parents and elders dictate the values of the community and values of the individual. The community is more important than the individual. When these young people become the elders of the community, they instill the same values. The idea that you could change your family or racial identity is absurd.

Take a country like South Africa- where race was painfully defined and has carried out a societal structure. From this point of view, where racial identity is so well defined, it seems absurd that someone would “choose” a race for themselves. As if it was that simple.

Extreme Individualism

It is true that race is a “social construct.” But, social constructs are called social constructs because they are defined by society, not the individual. Just because one person have a different idea, doesn’t mean that we can topple a social construct with an individual idea.

This type of extreme individualism that we embody in the West, leads to an internalized belief that “I can be whatever I want.” Taken too far, we get Rachel Dolezal and the idea that one can pick their own race. If we look at the patterns of other societies, this idea of being “transracial” is totally corrupt.

Its like white privilege and Western individualism had a lovechild and Rachel Dolezal is what we get as a result.

The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of “individualism” in the West. I predict in future generations, we may come back to a closer balance between the individual and the community.

 

An Isolationist India and Tagore’s Lost Dream

Rabindranath Tagore is considered one of the masterminds of modern Indian civilization. While mostly known for his artistic endeavors in literature, music and education, Tagore was also an active cultural anthropologist. The magnitude and influence of his poetry and music often overshadows the observations he made about culture. Gandhi and Tagore had wildly different perspectives on India’s interaction with the outside world, yet Gandhi’s ideology has been more widely employed. Tagore lived from 1861 to 1941, before the politically charged Indian Independence and Partition era. And even further from the rampant globalization era that we are now in the midst of.

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Gandhi and Tagore in 1940 – Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Tagore believed in an open India, an India open to the world’s ideas and influence. He believed that Indians should never be threatened from an outside worldview, but that it would only make one more aware and appreciative of his/her own context.

He was quoted “Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin.”

Is this a timeless perspective to be adopted? Or simply a reaction to the isolationists of the early 1900s?

Was he aware of white privilege and the tendency to appropriate cultural phenomenons? Or was his audience merely the paranoid/exclusionists Indian, who were afraid of letting other cultures invade and corrupt the ancient Indian past?

In our current age, the pace of global interactions is astronomically different than the simplicity of the early 1900s. Merchants no longer travel from faraway lands, peddling their goods, bringing art and music from afar as they settle down and make Mother India their own. The speed of our travel, connectedness and technology quickens the pace of cultural exchange. There is now a trend to make things ours, without appreciating or acknowledging the source. Cultural digestion trumps cultural appreciation.tagore

 

Tagore also said “Celebration of Indian civilization can go hand in hand with an affirmation of India’s active role in the global world.”

I hope this can still be true today, and I believe it depends on the attitudes of the Indian people and retaining confidence of Indian identity in a global world.

When we are challenged, we are expanded. And that expansion can help us see the beauty about who we are, and the truth about where we come from.

Does Bollywood Promote Rape?

India has gotten negative press regarding its treatment of women. The Jyoti Pandey case only brought shame and terror and has severed the conscience of the Indian people. The Kathua rape case of an eight year old child horrified the sub-continent.

The tragedy of rape is being examined on many levels of society. So why do we allow the film industry to show sexual exploitation as entertainment?

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Shah as a family man in “Monsoon Wedding”

In “Monsoon Wedding” (2001), Naseerudin Shah plays a protective uncle who stands up to a more powerful male relative who had molested his niece. It was a powerful message in a culture that normally shames the victim.

However, in “Dirty Picture” (2011), Shah plays a creepy older actor who basically sexually exploits the up and coming actress Silk, played by Vidya Balan. The lyrics of the song “Oo La La” are between the older man, and the younger woman’s taunting words “Don’t touch me. I’m a young woman.” The film and the music have no redeeming qualities. The film glorifies the hypersexualized Silk and basically excuses the disgusting behaviors as just “what it takes to get ahead.”

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Shah as creepy predator in “Dirty Picture”

Why the mixed messages?

But Shah isn’t the only one guilty of this hypocrisy. Kareena Kapoor is another guilty party. It is sad to see actresses like Kapoor show her face as a UNICEF ambassador, posing for women’s rights, then perform these kind of “item songs” glorifying prostitution. See my other blog “Does Bollywood Portray Sex Slavery as Cute and Funny?

There is a saying “Garbage in, garbage out.”  What we put into our minds in the form of entertainment, music and conversations, affects our behavior.

If we truly believe that rape is wrong, we would stop watching such garbage and boycott this kind of hypocritical behavior in the Bollywood industry. It will take more than social media posts and protests to stop the rape culture in India.

The IKEA Generation 

My grandma’s vaccum cleaner taught me a valuable lesson. I have never seen anything like this. This thing probably weighed 40 pounds and it came with a 25 year warranty. Being a Millennial, I was baffled when my Grandma told me she bought it in the 1970s. How was this thing still working?KirbyVaccuum

Traditionalists/Silent Gen (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and even Gen Xers (1965-1980) made purchases that were going to last them a lifetime.

Many generations born before 1980 have a “settle and stay” mentality. They buy a house in their 30s and live in it until they retire. The American dream includes buying a long lasting oak bedroom set and matching furniture throughout the house, being careful to include family heirloom pieces.

The older generation bought to last.

Our generation is a mobile one. I know people who don’t even have a vaccum, but just set their Roomba loose while they are at work.  We buy condos to sell them and make a profit. We buy IKEA stuff knowing that we will replace it in 3 years when our job moves us across the country.  We use Netflix instead of buying the collectors set of “Friends” on DVD. We value digital content over hard copies. We are global nomads, spending money on experiences rather than stuff.

There is no question that generations adapt to the times and workforce culture. Our lifestyles have to adjust. But I wonder if these “IKEA” mentality doesn’t have an affect on our relationships?

Do we idolize our lighter lifestyles? Do we think about investing into relationships that are built to last?

The older generations had the expectation that marriage was for life. They desired less change and less adventure. The Traditionalists were children of the Depression, and reached for stability as their highest value. That stability has slid into less of a need with each progressive generation. Nothing is permanent to us.

The relational wisdom of older generations, especially Traditionalists, still matters.

I want to challenge my fellow Millennials and Centennials to learn these important values of commitment, stability and compromise from the older generations. Not everything is disposable, and lets not forget it.

As we reach around the world, let’s keep the values of permanence in relationships intact.

For more on generations, check out The Six Living Generations in America.

Colonialism and Self Respect in the 21st Century 

I’ve noticed a peculiar trend. Behind a screen of nationalism, there are two polarized views that the outside world holds about India – simultaneous idolization and distain of Indian culture. Where does this come from?

There is no question that India is a land which pulls the extreme emotions out of nationals and visitors alike, but is there something deeper which affects the perception of the outside world?

Who are the voices who have defined what “India” is? Who are the ones narrating India’s history?macaulay_Colonialist

Thomas Babington Macaulay was one of history’s more unsavory characters and is credited for “divid[ing] the world into civilised nations and barbarism, with Britain representing the high point of civilisation.”

If that doesn’t make your skin crawl, I don’t know what does.

Another blurb from Wikipedia states:

In his Minute on Indian Education of February 1835, he asserted, “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England”.

Here is the thing, Macaulay never even learned Sanskrit, but relied on English translations of the works to for his analysis. In addition, the most influential colonial historian, James Mill never learned any Indian language and never visited India! He took Macaulay’s false ideas further by publicizing them across the Western world. He was motivated to provoke coercion and dominance so that the British could pillage and rule. These colonialists wanted the intellectual wealth of India for themselves. Macaulay and Mill were people who made conclusions based on assumptions rather than actual knowledge to protect their power.

There has been a false narrative spread, and it is high time to clear it up. Indian Flag Face

Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian” goes into more detail on how the self-confidence of Indians has been tarnished by these false historical reports.  These views have deeply imbedded into the Western understanding of India, and Indians’ understanding of themselves. Brushing off India’s contributions to merely the spiritual realms is short sighted.

Let’s unravel it a bit.

Sanskritic writings have often been brushed off as simply useful for spiritual purposes.  The West has a perception that yoga and ayurveda are the only relevant contributions of ancient Indian sciences to the world, but this is also shortsighted.

What about India’s ancient contributions in math and science? Aryabhata‘s pioneering astronomical calculations, Pingala’s use of Binary Code and Zero and Chess are just a few. Anyone who has heard Indian classical music recognizes the music as a mathematical wonder to your ears. Architectural concepts pioneered in the Hindu temples of South India and Vedic city planning were foundations that have been used throughout history. The oldest discovered university in the world is in Bihar, India. Oh yeah, and ever heard of the Taj Mahal?

This historical fallacies have been imbedded deep into the Western view of India and certainly the Indian psyche as well. New voices need to rise up and share the beauty and deep history of the subcontinent. The history of India needs to be retold to the world.

India and the Art of Mindful Lingering

As one walks down any Indian street, you will find one thing which is unmistakably unique to South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures – lingerers.Chai Stall

Men running chai stalls, taxi-drivers, tailors running a store – most of them just waiting around for a customer to come by. Not to mention pedestrians teenage boys crowded around a single mobile phone or aunties sitting on a mat on the stoop of their homes, just shooting the breeze. They’re just kind of all hanging out, not really doing anything. Lingering. Passing the time.

Lingering has been forgotten in the West. Lingering has been replaced with constant stimulation. We can not wait for a single thing. We expect our minds to be constantly occupied, endlessly performing.

America and India are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our sense of time. In India, time happens to you. In the US, we tell ourselves that we have control of time. We schedule it, put it into our calendars, find every possible way to avoid wasting it, and define our lives by fighting against it.

On one side, there is the temptation to leave no margin in life and being constantly busy. Whereas on the other side, there is the temptation to leave too much margin and be constantly in a state of ease and boredom.

These are two extremes where I believe, it may be best for us to fall somewhere in the middle.

We can see our value even by the words we invent. In the West anti-aging, productivity and quality time are concepts we all understand. Anyone who has visited South Asia has an understanding of “time pass.”

indiantraffic

Environment and Capacity for Chaos

In India, the noise level and sensory overload is unlike any you will see anywhere else in the world. However, I would argue that the mental clutter, distraction and constant activity of the West is just as harmful and possibly more difficult to shut down. Perhaps both cultures react with the way they spend their time because of the atmosphere surrounding them.

In India you will find people sitting and spacing out while the whirlwind of noises, traffic, animals and constant clutter of activity. In the West, you will find people in silent corporate offices, headphones in, with a mind racing 100mph with tasks, meeting requests and project deadlines. The human mind can only handle so much clutter, yet we also seek it out. We do our best to balance the equilibrium of “busy vs idle.”

 

How do we create the “linger factor” in our lives? 
chai

  1. Expect the unexpected – because you know deep down that life throws curve balls at you.
  2. Unschedule your schedule – it might feel terrifying, but spontaneity will do you some good.
  3. Diversify your friend group – when you hang out with people of different cultures, maybe they will be constantly late, will stay at your house “too long” or will take 2 hours to eat a meal at a restaurant. Maybe they will stretch you. And maybe you will love it.

 

 

Nomadic Professionalism and Living Cross Culturally