Sunday, September 06, 2009

Feeling Stupid

Chairing a meeting when I am the only English speaking person in a room of Xhosa speakers is NOT FUN. This afternoon I had what I thought would be a fairly straight-forward meeting, but which grew in complication. In the end everything went ok, but so much of the meeting was only in Xhosa that I really might as well not have been there. I could have insisted - but it would have meant embarrassing other church leaders, which I didn't feel was necessary. But the unconscious message given by the Xhosa speakers was, 'you might be one of our ministers, but it doesn't really matter whether you understand or not, because we are pretty sure that you don't have a contribution to make anyway'.
I know that it is not intentional. I believe that in other circumstances I could cope, even in spite of the language difficulties. But at the end of the day I am left seriously doubting my competence. And acknowledging that what really bothers me is that I feel stupid.


Steven Jones said...

Hi Jenny

Being excluded like that is not only sad, it's also downright rude seeing as you were chairing the meeting. At the very least, surely someone could have given you a periodic summary of what was being discussed? Without you having to ask for it?

Sometimes I think we get too worked up about not wanting to embarrass or disrespect others. I know that you are probably one of the last people who would want to throw your weight around, and Lord knows we have far too many ministers who have an inflated sense of their own importance. I also know that you earnestly desire to give others respect, and that is good. Respect must also be earned, and does not (and should not) come automatically with one's position. But surely respect has to be a two-way street?

Sometimes I think this cross-cultural stuff is so hypocritical - "consensus", "respect", and "protocol" seem to be concepts that do not always apply mutually, and then only (it seems) when it suits the other person - if not, then "stuff you" as far as the other person is concerned.

Of course, some would see this little rant of mine as "racist". I guess that sometimes we just can't win.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Steven. Thanks for your support. I don't think they were trying to be excluding - they may even have felt that they were helping me. But I guess that what struck me is that when I feel embarrassed I just want to run away and hide. I can handle opposition and disagreement and all sort of things, but it is hard to handle embarrassment!

Steven Jones said...

Granted, and I know you want to give those in the meeting the benefit of the doubt. But you shouldn't have to be put in a position of embarrassment in the first place!