Hot or cold, don’t be conformed

Photo: Bianca Ackermann, Unsplash. Photo: Bianca Ackermann, Unsplash.

If you had to choose either summer or winter for a year, which would it be? My answer is winter. I like cold weather — and all the more so today, when it is 104 degrees in Philadelphia. 

I spent most of my adult life in Indonesia, where it’s warm all year. So winter is an exciting new experience for me.

Differences in climate don’t just affect the weather. They influence behavior.

In her book Foreign and Familiar, Sarah-Lanier divides the world into two parts: hot-climate cultures and cold-climate cultures.

In hot-climate cultures, people are more relational. In cold-climate cultures, they are more task-oriented. 

Communication styles differ. A hot-climate person has one goal in communication: a feel-good atmosphere. In cold-climate cultures, people value accurate communication more highly and tend to be less concerned about how their words make others feel.

In a hot-climate culture, where you belong is more important than what you think. The Maori of New Zealand say, “I belong, therefore I am.” 

French philosopher René Descartes expressed a cold-climate view when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” 

Community life is important in a hot-climate culture. In a cold-climate culture, people affirm individuality and independence.

These cultures generally follow geography, but not always. Cold-climate culture prevails in some warm regions.

As one would expect, cold-climate culture prevails in Canada, the northern United States and Northern Europe. But it also dominates in Israel (among the Jewish population who came primarily from Europe), the white populations of New Zealand, Australia, southern Brazil, the white population of South Africa and any other countries or regions largely settled by Europeans, such as Argentina.

Among the hot-climate cultures, Lanier includes the southern United States, Asia, the Pacific Islands, South America (an exception is urban Argentina, which is 80% European), Africa, the Mediterranean countries (except the Jewish population of Israel), the Middle East and most of the rest of the world. 

What culture or cultures do you identify with?

Jesus said we should treat others as we want to be treated. To do this, we need to be aware of the cultures people come from. Our good intentions might cause harm if we don’t understand other cultures.

As a first-generation Indonesian American who lives in the northeastern United States, I was excited when I moved here. But as time went by, I started to feel like an outcast. I didn’t realize how intense my connection to my home community was — and how out of place I would feel when separated from it.

But this conflict created opportunities. I gained more awareness of how to think as an individual. At first, it was a challenge. I’m not used to being alone. I felt anxious and weak, but when I started practicing independence and adjusting to new expectations, I developed tools to navigate a cold-climate culture.

For example, when I have pushback on my preaching or writing, or when people express disagreement directly to me, I’ve learned not to take it personally. I’ve found courage to speak my mind and express my feelings directly.   

Ertell Whigham, former executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, said stretching is not the goal, but transformation is. Our tolerance of change has limits. But, as we are transformed, we develop new ways of life that make us more complete. I can relate to a wider variety of people because I have learned the ways of both hot- and cold-climate cultures.

Paul said to the church in Rome: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). The world has expectations — like hot and cold cultures — that make us conform and that separate us from those who are different. These patterns trap us in cultural bubbles. 

If we accept the world’s patterns without resistance, a time bomb is set. Eventually it blows up, turning small differences into big conflicts. 

My suggestion: Immerse yourself in a different culture. Develop new ways of thinking and living. If you’re a cold-climate person, visit a hot–climate culture, or vice versa. 

Expect resistance, internally and externally. Broadening your cultural experience will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Keep engaging, learning and praying as the Spirit leads.  

Hendy Matahelemual

Hendy Stevan Matahelemual is an ordained minister in Mosaic Mennonite Conference and lives in Philadelphia. Read More

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