East differs from West

East differs from West

Raising one’s voice in a discussion or a confrontation in Switzerland can be interpreted as insecurity or not having self-control. This is not the done thing. In many Eastern European countries, it is the other way around. It is interpreted as insecurity when one does not raise one’s voice. Not speaking up strongly shows that I am not really convinced of my point of view.


This is of course a generalisation but it shows cultural differences. It also points to the fact that we draw our conclusions about others based on our own cultural background when mixing with other cultures. This happens most of the time unconsciously when in fact it would be good to be aware of what is going on.


When we raised our children over thirty years ago, much of our principles were based on fairness. We treated our children as much as possible as equals. And I was always wondering why, for example, in Moldova an older sister can take so much responsibility for her siblings even at an early age. One of the reasons is that they are not treated as equals. The older is in charge and therefore is used to taking on more of the load than we would have given to our children.


This leads to another hot topic, namely hierarchy. In many of the organisations and governing bodies I have served with, the hierarchy was fairly flat. Discussions often were basically on the same level among boss and subordinates and old and young. In one of the organisations it was so consensus driven that oftentimes the decision process got stuck. This was, at times, very frustrating as a fairly tiny minority could hold the whole organisation captive. In Eastern European countries hierarchy works differently. There is a clear leader at the top and challenging him openly is not appropriate. There are different rules in place.


There is a way around all of this but is it better? As you might know, in Switzerland we like voting in referenda. There is almost nothing we do not vote on. And in the past years it has, on several occasions, turned out that the majority got to around 51%. This does, of course, raise the question if that does not leave a divided country. A tiny minority makes the difference and the others have to live with it.


Coming back to hierarchy. It does have its advantages as well if a leader, after listening carefully and consulting widely, makes a wise decision. But how do you make sure that a leader with much power does not misuse this power? How do you make sure it is not just about the power game (a power struggle).


Years ago, many of us were running with the Micah Campaign. It was concentrating on relief, development, care and advocacy in various spheres of life. Today, the work continues under the name of Micah Global. The Bible verse which is guiding this campaign is to this day:


“What does the Lord require of us? To Act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8


I strongly believe if this would be the foundation of leadership, be it in a flat or hierarchical body, we would fare well. The results would be good. But we would still have to live with the different styles of leadership mercifully and humbly.


So let’s embrace the other with that attitude and love each other with the love Christ has commanded us. It will make the difference and help us to live with our differences between West and East and other differences.



Thomas Bucher

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