Character and Society Value Systems

If I had unlimited resources one of the things that I would like to do would be travel extensively. But when I say travel, I don’t mean visit: I would want to dig deeply. I’d want to literally live in a location for a year or two so that I could really get to know it.

Not having had that experience I’m aware that I have a very unary world view. I see things through my Western mindset, and don’t really appreciate that other people might see it differently.

I was reminded of this when recently I read…

In sub-Saharan Africa, relationship is such a highly regarded value that for many tribal Africans that value often takes precedence over truth – which most westerners usually consider the higher of the two values. That difference in perspective can create serious misunderstandings, unnecessary conflict and sometimes even tragic consequences. An African might choose to massage or shade the truth, or withhold important information, because he doesn’t want to cause offense. He might refuse to say something that others might not want to hear.
When that happens it would be easy for an American to see the African as deceitful and untrustworthy, even lacking in moral character. The African, however, might feel that he has actually demonstrated the highest integrity and trustworthiness by honoring what he has always been taught to believe was the most important cultural value. For him, consciously saying something that he feared could damage or strain a relationship would have been the far greater wrong. (Nik Ripken’s The Insanity of God, page 209)

When we are writing fiction it is important to really plumb the depth of our characters and societies to bring out diverse views and perspectives.  Part of what I find invigorating about writing is being able to take something which is ‘normal’ and turn it onto its head.

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