External dimensions of GCORR’s Diversity Wheel include geographic location, income, personal and recreational habits, education and work experience, parental and marital status, appearance, and religion/spirituality.
These aspects include areas of our lives over which we have some level of control. Depending upon our cultural identity, we may decide to live in a different geographic location from where we were born. Some of us have the opportunity to increase levels of income with education or work experience. We might play soccer, like to read mystery novels, write poetry, take care of animals, teach young people or learn from them how to run a business. Many of us have choices as it relates to whether we want to marry or not. Those of us who want to raise children have many options including adoption and foster (temporary) care. Within our cultural homes we have different hair and clothing choices. Even those of us who “grew up in the church” have choices about our religion and spirituality. This is not to say that there may not be great sacrifices made to achieve choices in some of these areas. It is simply to say that these are the areas with the greatest likelihood that they could change over time.
Because they can change over time and because we have some level of control over them, external dimensions of culture influence and form the basis for some of our key decisions: career and work style preferences, hiring and promotion practices at work, and with whom we develop friendships. External dimensions of culture and cultural identity can influence not only our preferences for co-workers but also our biases about who works the hardest. They can create bonds of interest, similarity, and empathy but also silos of perspectives and ministries.
Intercultural competency, at this level, helps us to recognize, question, and reframe our decisions and decision-making processes. We are able to recognize our implicit biases which guide us to like this person and fear that person. We are able to question our own group affiliations and be sensitive to the global realities of others. We are able to reframe our understandings of income, marital and parenting relationships, and culturally specific expressions of Christian spirituality.
Vital conversations can remind us that even when some of our organizational or internal cultural identity markers are the same, great differences within them can remain. We learn to distrust our “all people who” statements (i.e., all people who join the United Methodist Church join for the same reason). We are able to reframe our conversations to sustain friendships and ministry relationships across differences, borders, and traditions. External dimensions of culture ask us to consider how our decision making affects others, how different cultural choices can be equally fulfilling, and how some of the very same values can be behind very different perspectives.
Finally, institutional equity invites us to create policies and systems which disentangle vocational education from income, marital and parental status from evaluation and promotion, and leadership development and nominations from community of origin. From the local church to the Connectional Table, our external dimensions of culture remind us to rethink our preferences and decision-making to ensure full participation, opportunity, and fulfillment for all.