By Hendy Matahelemual
If you had to choose between summer or winter for a year, which would you choose? I would choose winter. I like the cold weather, and as I write, it is 100 degrees today in Philadelphia. I spent most of my adult life in Indonesia, where it’s warm all year. So winter is an exciting new experience for me.
Differences in climate don’t just affect the weather – they influence behavior. In her book, Foreign and Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures, Sarah Lanier divides the world in two parts: hot-climate and cold-climate cultures.
In hot-climate cultures, people tend to be more relational and communicate in ways that promote a friendly environment. In cold-climate cultures, people tend to be more task-oriented and value accurate communication over people’s feelings.
In a hot-climate culture, where you belong is more important than what you think. The Māori people of New Zealand say, “I belong, therefore I am.” French philosopher René Descartes expressed a cold-climate perspective when he said, “I think, therefore I am.”
Community life is valued very highly in a hot-climate culture. In a cold-climate culture, people affirm individuality and independence. These cultures generally follow geography, but not always. Cold-climate culture prevails in some warm regions.
What culture or cultures do you identify with?
Jesus said we should treat others as we want to be treated. To do this, we need to be aware of the cultures people come from. Our good intentions might cause harm if we don’t understand other cultures.
As a first-generation Indonesian American, I was excited when I moved to the US. But eventually, I started to feel like an outcast. I didn’t realize how intense my connection to my home community was — and how out of place I would feel when separated from it.
But this conflict created opportunities. I gained more awareness of how to think as an individual. At first, it was a challenge. I’m not used to being alone. I felt anxious and weak, but when I started practicing independence and adjusting to new expectations, I developed tools to navigate a cold-climate culture.
For example, I now have more peace when I have push back on my preaching or writing. When people express disagreement directly to me, I learn to not take it personally and learn to see it from the other perspective. I also find I am now more willing to speak my mind and express my feelings directly.
Stretching is not the goal, but transformation is. Our tolerance of change has its limits. But as we are transformed, we develop new ways of life that make us more complete. I can relate to a wider variety of people because I have learned the ways of both hot- and cold-climate cultures.
Paul said to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV). The world has patterns and expectations — like hot- and cold-climate cultural differences — that make us conform to those around us while also separating us from those who are different. These patterns trap us in cultural bubbles.
If we accept the world’s patterns without resistance, a time bomb is set. Eventually it blows up, turning small differences into big conflicts.
Try to immerse yourself in a different culture. If you’re a cold-climate person, visit a hot-climate culture, or vice versa. Expect resistance, internally and externally. Broadening your cultural experience will not be easy, but it is worth it. Keep engaging, learning, and praying as the Spirit leads.
Hendy Matahelemual is the Associate Minister for Community Engagement for Mosaic Conference. Hendy Matahelemual was born and grew up in the city of Bandung, Indonesia. Hendy lives in Philadelphia with his wife Marina and their three boys, Judah, Levi and Asher.