Monday, January 12, 2009

Default Cultures and Personalities

There was a time that the word default meant only something that failed, like a loan. In computer terms a default is something that is preset and goes back to that setting unless it is intentionally programmed to do otherwise. The default color for MS Word is black. I can make it blue for this blog, but the next time I create a new document it won’t be blue but will default back to black.

In Sherwood Lingenfelter’s latest book he mentions there is a default culture that people fall back to as it relates to behavior or practice. I have taught this concept in my class for years, but never used the term. When speaking of “time” I tell my students that an African can learn to be “on time” if he/she has a job which requires punctuality, but since Africans (South Asian’s and Latin’s) are notoriously late for everything outside the workplace they default back to being “event” oriented. Enculturation is a pattern of behavior set by culture and it’s a process that is deeply ingrained in a person early in life and becomes their default setting throughout their existence on earth. An African may become a follower of Christ, but the superstition associated with his animistic past will be a default practice in times of crisis, which includes going to the witchdoctor.

Default behavior is not only cultural but is true with personalities as well. If a person is a worrier, manipulative, prone to anger, feelings of negative self-worth or lazy, it’s because they have a set a life pattern that becomes their default personality. People who have a good outlook on life, an encourager, are generous, laid back, creative, speak well of others are good practices that has been developed probably in a home environment that programmed them into a default pattern (good argument for the need of good parenting and good home atmosphere).

It is possible to change some cultural or behavioral tendencies as a person gets older, but precedent has been established early and few people will change basic dispositions after they are past puberty. Implications? First, if you are a parent of small children work hard and intentional on the lives of those little ones God has given you. Your role in setting your kids default settings can’t be over emphasized. Second, we can change patterns in our personalities, but to do so means we have to reboot every day and throughout the day reconfigure the settings in our life. That comes with spending time in His Word and being mindful of God’s instructions. If you’re like me, you will have to reboot several times a day because, sadly, my behavior always go back to a bad default setting.