What Makes Us Tick (Part 2)

In last week’s column we focused on our brain—the stunningly efficient processor in our heads. Today we want to focus on what programs this living computer since the program determines the final outcome.

Education in and of itself is not what programs our mental computers. Instead, it is our values: our virtues, principles, convictions, ideals, motives, morals, ethics or character that we hold dear that instruct our brains.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” Dean W.R. Inge. The problem is that education models often pride themselves in being “value-free,” provoking C.S. Lewis to write, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” Value-free education produces heads full of knowledge but hearts empty of virtues such as integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness.

How Can We Discover Our Values?
Try the fear test. What are you afraid of? Think about it. Our fears point to what we value. Most people fear crippling injury, serious mental or bodily illness, or premature death. Obviously, we value our total health and life.

Canela Boys Stay With Their Age Group for Life

Canela Boys Stay With Their Age Group for Life

The Canelas fear fights and divisions among themselves. The strongest condemnation is not for stealing or lying but for someone who hits another. The Canelas obviously value their community-based culture of family, friends, belonging and togetherness.

Things I Fear
I fear suffering a major moral lapse in the areas of money, sex, or power. My fears point to values like continued good fellowship with God, being held in high regard by my family and colleagues, and having an effective ministry as a speaker and writer.

I also fear poverty which leads to not being able to travel to be with people I love, not being able to buy the things or services for myself or to help others, all within reason, of course. This fear indicates I value mobility, being able to choose where to live, live in relative comfort, having the ability to help others in need, and having an valuable Kingdom ministry.

I fear losing all my computer data, fifty years of diaries, personal history, and photos. I very much value being able to leave a legacy to our descendants of what God has done in and through Jo and me and our family.

Try this exercise yourself. List the things you fear, then ask why you fear them and list your values. Now check these values against the Bible. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the book of Proverbs for some clearly stated biblical principles, ethics and ideals.

We may find that our values need some upgrading, from being narcissistic, and materialistic to being more God-centered. Reading the Bible will grow those values in our lives. Our biblically sound values will program our brain to make decisions that lead to a God-pleasing life.

More Advantages to Knowing What We Value
Modeling biblically sound values and talking about them to our children and grandchildren will influence them to develop these values too. Our influence and example will live long after we are gone.

  • Having a set of clear values and strong convictions will help us make decisions quickly and wisely.
  • Only strong convictions growing from clear values can withstand strong temptations.
  • When our values are clear we can influence other people and reach into their lives to give them the help they need.
  • As we live in accord with our values, our self-respect grows, and others are drawn closer to us.

God has given us a great computer processor, which we need to keep healthy and protected. Our chief responsibility, however, is to make sure we run the right programs. We can only do that when we know and develop values that line up with what God’s Word calls wisdom.

Soaking our minds in the Word of God by reading and pondering it regularly, is therefore, the best way to develop the clear values and strong convictions that program our fabulous, God-given brain. Our well-programmed brains will move us to live God-pleasing lives.


To Bribe or Not to Bribe, Is That the Question?

Why is it that good, well educated, and right living people, can have such strange ideas about cultures? It seems that we North Americans tend to consider anything in another culture wrong if it differs from our own in ways we don’t like.

Languages, being part of cultures, differ from country to country. We wouldn’t dream of criticizing Japanese for speaking their unique language. Nor would we expect to live and work in China without learning Mandarin. In the same way, a Canadian or American company that wants to work in Mexico would expect its people to learn Spanish and behave according to generally accepted Mexican customs.

So why this huge outcry recently about Walmart bribing its way to success in Mexico? Walmart built over a hundred stores in Mexico in a remarkably short time. The accusers pointed at funding trails that showed large amounts of money had been spent in getting the building permits. Their argument was, money plus building permits proves bribery.

That may be true within Canadian or American culture, but is not at all true in the cultures of many other countries. No one disputes that money changed hands. The question is, “Was this money given in order to get some official to do something illegal or unethical, or was it simply a culturally expected tip?”

This picture has nothing to do with the subject of this column other than show what Jo and I looked like about the time of the driver's license story.

When I was a first-term missionary, I remember getting dozens of documents ready so I could renew my Brazilian driver’s license. My folder had it all: police clearance statement, certificate of proficiency, physical and psychological tests, driver’s test successful completion record, passport with permanent residence visa, receipts for all licensing fees paid, etc. Each document was notarized and well within the application deadline.

As I walked away with my thick folder of documents to catch a bus to town, I met our neighbour, a veteran missionary.

“Pray for me,” I said, “I’m turning in my final documents to get my driver’s license renewed.”

“Okay, I will, I know what a hassle that can be. Are you sure you have every paper you need?” he asked, reaching for my folder. He paged through all my papers, gave back the folder, then pulled out his wallet.

“Here,” he said, “As he handed me a note of Brazilian money worth about five dollars. Put this into your passport. It helps to move things along.”

I took the money, put it into my passport and later that morning handed in my folder to the clerk behind the wicket. She slowly paged through all the papers, riffled through the passport, saw the money, kept on looking through the papers, then looked up and said, “Yes, everything is in order, you can come in tomorrow morning and pick up your license.”

True to her word, my license was ready and I was good to go. When I paid back my missionary friend I asked him, “So what was that money for?”

“A tip,” he replied, “officials, like taxi drivers and waiters are not well paid and they expect a tip.”

“So it wasn’t a bribe?”

“No, of course not. As Christians we do not bribe, it breeds corruption and is wrong.”

“So what is the difference between a bribe and a tip?” I asked, still feeling slightly guilty.

“Very simple. A bribe is payment to an official so he will do something illegal, unethical, or immoral. For instance, when someone has failed his proficiency test he may offer to pay the inspector to pass him anyway. That is a bribe. Whereas what you did was give the clerk the culturally expected tip so she would do her job. It is no different from giving a tip to a barber or a baggage handler. You were not asking her to do anything wrong, you simply let her know you appreciated her work on your behalf.

Knowing the culture is so vital. When Jo and I were Bible translators, we needed to understand not only the language and the culture of the Canela people, but also the culture of Palestine in Jesus’ day and of Greece, Turkey and Italy in the time that the apostle Paul wrote his letters. As North American businesses like Walmart spread around the globe, and as millions of people from every culture in the world come to North America, we need to recognize that all cultures differ from each other, all have some good aspects and bad ones. Just because it is different from our culture doesn’t mean it is bad. Besides, no culture is perfect. No, not even our own.

Some societies value time and money, others are strong on relationships. Some promote fierce individual independence, others value interdependence. Some degrade women, others honor the elderly, yet another exploits children.

All cultures differ from each other just as individual human beings differ. The bottom line is, in the same way that no individual measures up to God’s standard of behaviour, no culture is faultless. We all, individuals as well as cultures, need God to redeem us and give us new life.