Seeing Things From Someone Else's Point of View
Students will examine the cultural trait of sharing, trying to view it from the point of view of someone in another culture.
About the Story
In "Sharing in Africa," Tidwell tells how he experienced the overwhelming generosity of the local villagers, who plied him repeatedly with offers of food—and even of wives. Despite the generosity that surrounded him, Tidwell describes how he could not bring himself to share his food, belongings, or living allowance, until an embarrassing encounter with a beggar helped him question his own cultural values. Students will appreciate Tidwell's insight and humor and his ability both to analyze his reactions and to laugh at himself as he discovers the nature of true sharing.
Two other excerpts from The Ponds of Kalambayi, with lessons for the classroom, are available in the Peace Corps publication Voices From the Field.
About the Setting
"Sharing in Africa" takes place in the remote chiefdom of Kalambayi in the heart of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (and before that, the Belgian Congo). Straddling the Equator, Congo has the third largest population, and the second largest land area, in sub-Saharan Africa. It includes the Congo River Basin, which encompasses an area of almost 400,000 square miles. Despite vast natural resources, including copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, and petroleum, Congo at the beginning of the millennium had a per capita annual income of $82. Agriculture, the main occupation, includes cash crops such as coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, and cocoa, as well as food crops such as cassava, plantains, and groundnuts—the term in Africa for peanuts.
In recent years, Congo has sustained brutal internal strife, with a lingering civil war producing high numbers of casualties, massive dislocation of the population, and starvation on a broad scale.
- To examine differences between cultures
- To see the same situation from different perspectives
- To question what we gain from trying to see the world from the perspective of another person or culture
- To understand the challenges Peace Corps Volunteers face when serving in a culture outside the United States
- Congenital: Existing at the time of birth
- Manioc: [MAN-ee-ahk] Also called cassava; a tropical plant with a starchy root used for making bread and tapioca
- Ungrudging: Willing; generous
- Incapacitate: To make unable or unfit
- Regime:: [ray-ZHEEM] French for a bunch, such as bananas (an entire bunch, as it grows on a banana tree)
- Absurdity: Ridiculousness
- Doddering: Feeble
- Septuagenarian: A person whose age is in the 70s
- Michel:: [mih-SHEL] French for the name Michael
- Perplexity: Confusion; bewilderment
- Waive: To give up a right to something
- Reciprocate: To give or act in return
- Haggard: gaunt; tired looking
- Unkempt: Untidy; messy
- Intimidate: To make someone afraid
- Improvise: To make up on the spur of the moment
- Bludgeon: To strike, as if with a club
- Permeating: Penetrating; spreading through
- Mitigating: Making less severe; moderating
- Appalling: Dismaying; shocking
Suggestion for teaching the lesson: Cut and paste the story from this volume in three sections. The three sections:
- To the end of the paragraph that starts: "It was truly overwhelming...."
- From "Barely three months" to the end of the paragraph that starts: "A moment later he finally stopped...."
- The remainder of the story.
- Conduct a class discussion about the sentences (or paragraphs) from the second section of the story that students underlined in their homework in Lesson 1—the parts they found most meaningful.
- Discuss the incident in which the village chief, Mbaya Tshiongo, offers Tidwell one of his daughters in marriage. What options did Tidwell have? What would have been the consequences of each option? To facilitate the students' answers and elicit a broad range of thoughtful responses, ask the students to pair up and use Resource Sheet 1(see link above), a graphic organizer that may help them analyze the incident and the attendant issues in the story.
- When the students have completed the sheets, debrief the class as a whole, inviting contributions from the resource sheets. What were the issues Tidwell had to consider as he tried to figure out what to do? What risks were involved for Tidwell? For the chief? For the Peace Corps program in Kalambayi? Why did Tidwell need the ability to see the world from the chief's perspective, as well as from his own?
Explain that Peace Corps Volunteers often face cultural situations they don't anticipate, and they need to be able to respond with respect and sensitivity. The problem they face is how to show respect for the cultural values of their hosts while not compromising their own values in the process. A critical skill for a Volunteer is the ability to see the world from another culture's perspective and respond appropriately.
- Ask students what can be gained from trying to see the world from another person's perspective—and from another culture's perspective. Can students identify how this might benefit them on a personal level—as a Peace Corps Volunteer or even just as a traveler? Can they suggest how this kind of understanding could affect a country's foreign policy? Prompt students to think of a time when they've had to see the world from another person's point of view at home in their own country. This discussion can be concluded by providing students with the enduring understanding: "To avoid misunderstanding—and possibly offending—someone from another culture, we need to try to see the world from their point of view as well as from our own."
About Graphic Organizers: Ask students if the graphic organizer helped them gain a better understanding of one of the complex issues in the story. How might they adapt this graphic organizer for use in a different class in which they are presented with a complex issue? Let the students know that research has shown that graphic organizers aid appreciably in reader comprehension and retention.
- The Individual and the Community: Who Comes First? In class discussion, ask students whether Kalambayans live under the principle of the group being responsible for individuals, or individuals being responsible for themselves. Students will observe that Tidwell lived in Kalambayi in a culture where people believe the group is responsible for the well-being of each individual. This created a challenge for him, since he had grown up in a culture where emphasis lies on the responsibility of individuals for themselves.
Ask students to jot down on paper examples in American culture of how individual responsibility for ourselves is valued. [Examples: the pioneering spirit of families settling territories new to them; the praise directed to individual achievement in business and in school; stardom of individuals in sports, movies, music; the tendency for nuclear families to disperse and for grown children "to make it on their own."] Discuss the students' observations, then read aloud the following quotations from Tidwell:
This concern for the group was extended in large measure to include all members of the village and, ultimately, all people. Everyone treated everyone else more or less like a relative, whether he was or not. Everyone was taken care of, even Kalambayi's strange, white, American visitor—me.
[This] was a social habit lacking in my own culture, and I was curious to know what it was, exactly, that produced it in Kalambayi.Draw the attention of the class to the second paragraph in particular. Ask students to speculate as to why the Kalambayans practice communal sharing so thoroughly, and in such contrast to the culture from which Tidwell came. Why might the complete sharing of material goods and food have evolved in the heart of the chiefdom of Kalamabayi and not in the American landscape? Further questions for discussion:
- In the United States, under what circumstances does taking care of the group take precedence over taking care of the individual?
- Do you think the villagers in Kalambayi would have characterized themselves as generous? Why or why not? (If Tidwell had said to them: "You are very generous people," would they have agreed?)
- Tidwell wrote: "But to have any meaningful experience here, I had to let go of some strong habits." What habits were those? Why did he have to let go of them to succeed as a Peace Corps Volunteer?
- The Peace Corps Experience. Read aloud to students the following, from Tidwell's introduction to The Ponds of Kalambayi:
For two years, I lived among the Kalambayan people. I spoke their language and taught many of them how to raise fish. My goal was to increase family protein consumption. But what I gave these people in the form of development advice, they returned tenfold in lessons on what it means to be human.Compare this quotation for the class to a comment from author and returned Peace Corps Volunteer Carrie Young, who served in Mali (from "Music in the Fields"):
Even though I tried to teach the villagers things that they didn't know about, they taught me so much more than I could have taught them—like how to care for one another, work as a community, and be happy with what I have no matter how great or small.(You might want to provide students with a small handout containing both quotations, so they can review and compare them.)
Discussion with students
- Do you think Tidwell and Young expected to learn these life lessons—and to learn more than they taught—when they first went to their posts?
- Did Tidwell have to give up his own culture in order to fit in among the Kalambayans? If you think so, in what ways did he have to "give up" his culture? If you think not, what did he do instead? How did he adjust?
Frameworks & Standards
- People of different cultures have different attitudes toward sharing.
- To understand people from other cultures—and to avoid misunderstandings—sometimes we have to try to see the world from their point of view as well as from our own.
- In some cultures, people believe the group is responsible for the well-being of each individual. In other cultures, people believe that individuals are primarily responsible for themselves.
- What are attitudes toward sharing in the United States? How is sharing viewed in another culture you might be familiar with?
- How do we know when we've shared enough? How do we know when we've been generous enough?
- What, if anything, do we gain from trying to see the world from another person's perspective?
- When is taking care of the individual more important than taking care of the group? When is taking care of the group more important than taking care of the individual?
- What does this story teach us about the challenges of serving as a volunteer in another culture?
English Standards: 1, 3, 6
Social Studies Standards: I, IV, IX
National Geography Standards: 4, 6, 10, 11, 13
For more information on the standards in Uncommon Journeys, see the Appendix (pdf—160 KB, linked above).