Part 6: Interpersonal Relationships Versus Diagnosis

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It is been said that the biggest problem that missionaries have is with other missionaries! I don't like to put it that way, because I think it demeans and diminishes the richness of missionary relationships in cross-cultural contexts. I would prefer that we say: interpersonal relationships in a cross-cultural environment can be more stressful than at home. And leave it at that.


However, there is no denying the fact that wherever we are, interpersonal relationships can be quite problematic. My struggle is that in our rush to care for people, somebody ends up having to have a diagnosis, in order for it to qualify for counseling. The question remains, do all interpersonal relationship difficulties have a diagnosable label? I think not. At the same time, I am not saying that therefore we shouldn't treat interpersonal relationship difficulties. But we should understand that there are probably many difficulties that don't rise to the level of a clinical impairment. How then do we provide disciplinary and or corrective input when people “don’t play well with others”?

I think it goes right back to policies we have that describe healthy interpersonal relationships needed to be a good missionary and member of an organization. Characteristics of good relationships need to be explicitly described. Also, and more importantly, situations where difficulties arise need to be carefully explained as well. This would include committing to understanding and clarifying differences of opinion and understanding. A member of the community should be expected to work things out, not deny or ignore them. Any member of that community should be able to bring up issues in which there is disagreement. Attempts to arrive at agreement, or resolve conflict, should be recorded. At the point at which one or more members are unable to work through difficulties, outsiders should be brought in to help in an educational capacity. If that doesn't work, there should be a clearly explained process whereby somebody may need to get individual help.

Theresa, do you agree with what I have said? And you have any suggestions about how we might do this in a proactive and appropriate manner?


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