Yesterday I heard a really interesting illustration about the differences in the way that cultures invest in a relationship.
The speaker works with a number of different cultures and has observed differences in the way they handle relationships. He works with a number of East Africans and they value sharing space. So even if you are busy, they may just come and sit in your office for 20-30 minutes, you might not really say all that much but you’ve shared space and that is important for them in building the relationship. He also works with Turks and other Middle Easterners and they value conversation. They will come and want to have a cup of tea and talk. You don’t necessarily need to “do” anything just spend time talking together. He also works with Westerners, Europeans and Americans, and when they come to see him it is always with an agenda. They want to do something, and have something to show for the time together.
When I took time to stop and think about it – I fully resonate with this. I feel awkward just going and sitting with someone and not doing something together. It does not seem meaningful to me and I find myself wanting to find someway to occupy myself and so pull out a gadget or find some other way to fill the time. Even just talking – if it doesn’t have a purpose – loses its enjoyment before too long. I want to deal with the issue or decide something and then move on.
This is not to say that the Western view is completely wrong. There is certainly great value in efficiency and minimizing “wasted time” in certain contexts. Yet, there are also other contexts where the ability to be still and just do nothing is of great value both for personal and relational growth.