MODULE 7: SKILL OF INTERCULTURAL EMPATHY
A person with intercultural empathy demonstrates adequate understanding of the complexity of what can be important to persons from a different culture. Often a person with intercultural empathy can interpret experiences or perspectives from their own and more than one worldview. This person can act supportive and recognize the feelings of a person with a different cultural perspective and different cultural values.
The exercise on the following page is adapted from Stella Ting-Toomey and Leeva Chung’s workshop at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, July 2013, in Portland, OR.
Please read the following parable:
ROSEMARY is a young woman about 21 years old. For a long time she has been engaged to a young man named HERNANDO and she is coming from a great distance to meet him for their scheduled wedding. The problem she faces is that between her and her betrothed there lies a river. No ordinary river, mind you, but a deep, wide river infested with hungry crocodiles.
ROSEMARY ponders how she can cross the river. She thinks of a man who has a boat, whose name is SVEN. She approaches SVEN and asks him to take her across the river. SVEN replies, “Yes, I’ll take you across the river if you’ll spend the night with me.”
Shocked at this offer, she turns to another acquaintance, LEE PAI, and tells him her story. LEE PAI responds by saying, “Poor ROSEMARY, I understand your problem, but I don’t see how I can help. It’s really your problem, not mine.”
ROSEMARY, in desperation, decided to return to SVEN, and spends the night with him. In the morning, SVEN takes her across the river. She completes her journey and arrives in time.
Her reunion with HERNANDO is warm, but on the evening before they are to be married, ROSEMARY feels compelled to tell HERNANDO how she succeeded in getting across the river. HERNANDO responds by saying, “I can’t believe you would do such a thing. I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last woman on earth.” And he banishes her as a soiled woman.
The Parable Exercise
Step 1. Write down, in rank order, the character whose behavior you MOST APPROVE to LEAST APPROVE.
Now write as a Word document or other file, a 4 sentence reflection paragraph on each choice. The first sentence should identify the character and your rank order. Your second sentence should concisely describe the behavior of the character. The third sentence should interpret the behavior using a cultural lens. Sentence four is your evaluation of this behavior. Write a 4 sentence paragraph reflection for each of the 4 characters above.
Step 2. Next reverse your rank order from above. Make your MOST APPROVED person your LEAST APRROVED person and your LEAST APPROVED person your MOST APPROVED person.
For this new reversed rank order write a 4 sentence reflection paragraph on each new and revised choice as Word document. The first sentence should identify the character and the new rank order. Your second sentence should concisely describe the behavior of the character. The third sentence should interpret the behavior using a cultural lens. Sentence four is your evaluation of this behavior. Write a 4 sentence paragraph reflection for each of the 4 characters above. In other words, you are writing a reflective paragraph using a new cultural lens to justify the opposite of what you presented in Step 2.
The same rubric can be used for step 1 and step 2, noting that the ranking has been reversed.
Optional group activity
Split into groups of four or five. Each group member should take turns to share his/her first choice, second choice, then third choice, etc.
Probe each other for the reasoning behind the rank-order decision-making process. Discuss and arrive at a group consensus of the rank-order choices.
One member of the group should be responsible to record group choices and report back to the entire class.
Adapted from William Weeks, Paul Pedersen, & Richard Brislin (1979). A Manual of Structured Experiences for Cultural Learning. La Grange Park, IL: Intercultural Network.
Understanding Intercultural Communication (2012) by Stella Ting-Toomey, Leeva C. Chung and Alex Flecky, New York, Oxford University Press, 2012.