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Acknowledging our frittered*1 culture existence
(Conceptualised November 2014)
Cultural diversity and racism issues are high on the social agenda in South Africa and in an
organisational context these are issues coaches and mentors cannot escape. Legislation
requires that human resource practitioners and psychologists engage with people using high
ethical standards. These ethical requirements also apply to coaching/mentoring practitioners.
The required standards include to be fair and not to discriminate against any culture, gender,
race, etc. The government's level of commitment to these requirements is so high that some
laws even demand evidence of fair and unbiased service from practitioners. This means the
requirements for fair service are elevated from voluntary ethical compliance to enforced
compliance supported by physical proof. This article provides an alternative perspective on
cultural diversity with the purpose to empower practitioners to generate proof of fair unbiased
service as part of the interventions. This increases the choices coaches/mentors have to
reduce their risks of falling short of the law. Members of COMENSA can use this alternative
perspective on cultural diversity to strengthen their ethical capacity and expand their scope of
service. The article concludes with a challenge to design a way forward.
Cultural diversity, employment equity, ethnography, fairness, frittered culture*1, heutagogic
learning, memeplexis, validity.
*1 The word 'frittered' is used (in the non-standard way) to describe the process of change
during an encounter between two different cultures. They strip each other from the outer
layers depending on their relative strengths.
ADAPTING TO A CHANGING ZEITGEIST
Cultural diversity and ethical dilemmas are two concepts coaches/mentors will surely
encounter in South Africa, especially within an organisational context. It is therefore
necessary to raise the professions' awareness about diversity and the ethical codes supporting
good behaviour. Unfortunately, ethical frameworks do not always provide sufficient
guidelines to overcome practical complexities in diversity. This article provides a possible
alternative for interpreting cultural differences and expands the space within which ethical
actions can be taken to ensure compliance to legal requirements.
Changes in zeitgeist
Ethical service requires that the coaching industry, from coaches/mentors to professional
coaching organisations, is cognisant of the ever changing zeitgeist within which professionals
operate. It is important to be cognisant because the zeitgeist often precedes legislation. Two
zeitgeist changes are acknowledged in this article. The first is the outcry from society to undo
the damage caused by racial policies which divided cultures and set them against each other.
This resulted in a utopian 'Us as good' versus 'Others as bad' play (Le Grange, 2004). The
second is the advances made by postmodern methods to bring meaning to science (Denzin,
1997; Ellis & Bochner, 2006).
The Employment Equity Act No 55 of 1998 is a purposeful legislative tool promulgated to
undo the damage caused by apartheid policies. This law prescribes practitioner behaviour and
the standards of their decision making instruments. Put into a utopian context, equity laws
address past discrimination against employees and become the mechanism to negotiate in
favour of the previously disadvantaged. The Employment Equity Act demands that human
resource practitioners and practitioners acting on their behalf must ensure culturally fair
decisions which include the methods, models and measuring instruments used. The act also
demands scientific evidence to this effect. Many coaches and mentors operate in the space of
people development, enhancement and assessment and should therefore automatically
comply with the burden of proof. Especially as professional providers under the COMENSA
Changes in scope of practice
The Employment Equity Act targets personnel managers and psychologists who select, train
and assess employees. Coaches/mentors progressively define themselves into this space and
their services are often used to develop and empower previously disadvantaged individuals,
or groups, for accelerated promotions. Given that these employees are on a fast track to
leadership positions, fair development and assessment processes and products become
critically important. The efforts of the coaching/mentoring profession to shape its scope of
practice around person and organisation enhancement have consequences. It creates a thin,
shifting and seemingly permeable boundary between coaching/mentoring and psychology.
The risk faced by the coaching/mentoring profession is that the practice of psychologists are
regulated and therefore creates legal uncertainties in the unregulated coaching/mentoring
industry. Still, it may be assumed that coaches/mentors inherit similar ethical obligations and
are therefore to ensure that they do not discriminate unfairly against any person. To an extent
this is covered by COMENSA's code of ethics.
The focus of this article is to bring more certainty about ways for coaches/mentors to manage
their risk within this legislative framework. This requires a journey through academic
The promised alternative way to think about cultural differences is anchored in the work of
academics (mainly in psychology), who publish their research in scientific journals. This
should help us understand the culture of the 'other'. The 'other' as disempowered universal
minority is described in a doctorate thesis on Utopia (2004). The utopian theme threads
through this article together with the theme of professional reflective practice to build ethical
capacity. The patterns for professional reflective practice, or heutagogic learning, are taken
from a dissertation (2014).
Creating a utopian reality
Contemporary utopian explorers are still looking for the perfect society where powers of
control are balanced, people are high on wellness and are treated equally and fairly (Le
Grange, 2004). This utopian culture is an advanced state with science, technology and
independent legal systems. It envisions the space for intellectual freedom where the multiple
cultural histories, which have shaped the society's past, are openly discussed. In a utopian
scenario the valuations with which cultures support the individual are respected.
Coaches/mentors should consider themselves co-creators of this reality, because they work
within a strong ethical code and work across cultures in a multicultural environment.
However, as possible co-creators of the envisioned Utopia, coaches/mentors should be aware
of the rituals and rites within dominant 'other' cultures.
Traditions and customs in African culture
Van Dyk (~2001) gives a valuable overview of traditional beliefs and customs when she
describes the cosmic order within African cultures as the:
macro-cosmos - inhabited by ancestors and creators
meso-cosmos - inhabited by witches and sorcerers
micro-cosmos - everyday personal, social and collective life
Van Dyk does not make any connections between this hierarchy in African tradition and a
similar hierarchy in Occidental tradition. The Occidental tradition has a God and angels in
heaven followed by a devil from hell with demons and witches from an underworld. Below
this supernatural world are the humans on the surface, sweating for their daily bread.
Van Dyk concentrates on how this hierarchical cosmic view is integrated into African
behaviour and how it manifests in a mindset of dual causality. In this mindset, misfortune has
first of all an ultimate cause attributed to the ancestors, or to witchcraft. If it is the ancestors
that must be appeased then sacrifices, offerings and a change in behaviour is the way to make
amends. If the misfortune is blamed on witchcraft then the victim must be protected with
rituals and the wearing of charms. The immediate causes relate to the micro-cosmos and may
include germs and accidents. A problem like unsatisfactory service will be split into a global
cause, such as "a relic of Apartheid", and a local cause, "lack of training" or a "broken
computer". The fact that dual attribution also exists in Occidental culture is conveniently
missed. It is not uncommon to hear "It was God's will", or "The Devil made me do it".
Beuster also acknowledges this African cosmic order and in true academic spirit, also misses
the cultural overlap. Fortunately, he expands our awareness with the knowledge that
"ancestors are part of the larger social system", in that "behavioural anomalies can be caused
by ancestors (amadlozi in Zulu). These ancestors are said to be benevolent creatures only
punishing if one does not follow the culturally prescribed code of conduct". Beuster also
describes inter-cosmic connections, "a sangoma (Zulu) is a diviner in service of the ancestors
or sorcerers and witches and can cast spells". He then raises an important point that describes
horizontal relationships in the micro-cosmos, stating "the subtle competition for resources
causes unmentionable emotions such as enmity, envy and strife". These emotions are
excluded from the narrative to favour the wellbeing of the group, but "to deal with the affects
a scapegoat is chosen and blamed".
Cultural appraisal and multiculturalism
Incorporating African culture into psychological practice based on an Occidental world view
is a topic of interest for these academics. Beuster indicates how ideas that may be "commonly
hold in one culture may appear delusional from the viewpoint of another culture". In African
tradition disharmonious and fractured social behaviour is seen as abnormal and a sign of
madness. However, in Occidental culture the critical judgements of dissidents may at worst
be experienced as annoying. In African culture mental illness is a failure of human relations
and recovery is only possible through the reintegration of client and community, but in
Occidental culture the focus is completely on the mental patient. Occidental treatment may
follow a psychodynamic process focussing on how the patient's mind interprets an
unfortunate childhood. Alternatively, occidental treatment may follow a physical
chemical/electrical process focussing on drugs or shock therapy. Thus, in African culture it is
necessary to "look at the group first and then individual behaviour" (Beuster). Rituals then
become instruments for helping individuals to focus on their wider social and cosmological
concerns. In psychology the ecosystemic model acknowledges the importance of the
individual's behaviour as interdependent with the individual's community and bridges the gap
Van Dyk recommends healing ceremonies where the dramatization enables "patients" to
express their emotions and to accept, or reintegrate, what may seem as a threatening part of
the self. The ceremonies include dancing, singing, drumming and storytelling and incorporate
the guidance and cooperation of ancestors. These ceremonies thicken the appreciation for
important cultural values. The closest Occidental culture gets to the thickening of stories is
the post-modern focus on reflexivity (Barnard, 2012).
Pluralism and a multitude of cultures
Beuster (1997) warns that "ignoring the cultural background of a client can lead to
misunderstanding and unwellness". This is exactly opposite to the ethical situation of
empathy and wellness the COMENSA code of conduct sets out to achieve. Gobodo (1990)
states that "cultural relativity is important in a pluralistic society". This may mean that it
should be acknowledged that the same fact may well be described from a different position in
each culture. She continues her analysis saying "help practices are not always appropriate for
all cultures. The solution should not be to attempt to homogenize local cultures into one, but
to adapt interventions cross-culturally". Beuster asserts that in "Western science the
fragmentation of the occidental mind often causes an existential void" and that "Africans
have a better understanding of the spiritual and existential needs of a person in crises."
Van Dyk (~2001) concentrates less on the explorative process in counselling/coaching and
more on psycho-education. She states "Western-based education and training programs will
never succeed if the diverse cultural belief systems in Africa are not understood and
integrated into such programs". It is exactly this requirement Robinson et al. (1994) attempts
to satisfy by providing us with an Afrocentric value system to "allow clients from the African
culture to redefine themselves in culturally congruent ways and serve to mediate the racist
ideology built into Occidental value systems". She is referring to the Occidental value
systems which many coaches and mentors rely on to create their codes of ethical practice and
assessments. But, it should be acknowledged that some coaches, and even psychologists,
venture into Oriental value systems. In putting forward an Afrocentric value system Robinson
adopted Nguzo Saba from West Africa and not the Shona's Ubuntu system popularised in
South Africa by Mbiti. Robinson claims that a "dominant socio-religious philosophy is shared
by all Africans" and states that "the traditional African world view is holistic with an
anthropocentric ontology" and quotes Mbiti "man forms an inseparable whole with the
cosmos and everything is seen in its relation to man who is the centre of the universe".
Although valuable, an explanation of these systems falls outside the scope of this article.
Gobodo (1990) attempts to put the traditional beliefs and customs into a more general
definition. To define the essence of culture she first quotes Linton (1945): "culture is a
configuration of learnt behaviour and results of behaviour whose components and elements
are shared and transmitted by members of a particular society". Then she quotes Ong (1978):
"culture is a set of symbols and meanings in terms of which individuals orientate themselves
to each other and to the world". It is clear from these definitions that culture requires the
cognitive ability of abstract thinking. Culture is also a general pattern of behaviour passed
from generation to generation. With definitions such as these Gobodo builds a picture of
cultural pluralism and states: "Cultures maintain a uniqueness and remain distinguishable but
contribute to a wholeness that is richer than the separate parts". This sounds much like
common ground between culture and the Gestalt theory of persons, in psychology.
Cultural metamorphoses and synthesis
Gobodo cites Lambo (1971) who confirms changes in traditional African culture, saying:
"The erosion of some traditional values in the process of shedding off tribal life, thereby
creating what may be termed existential frustration and an existential vacuum". Lambo
describes two types of change. The first is natural evolution over generations and the second
is painful change because of an imposed foreign culture. The latter can cause estrangement of
traditions and leads to upheaval and conflict. Gobodo writes: "It is wrong to think that
education and enlightenment have come, made African culture obsolete, and now we share
the same value system as the whites. It ignores the fact that no matter how ‘civilized’ we
might claim to be, we will still be regulated, in part, by the ethos of our original culture ...
The traditional cosmology has changes that come with technology and progress, but the broad
cultural structure provides some firm standing ground and rootedness". Gobodo adds: "Given
the need to survive on international markets we need to take what we need from other
cultures and synthesise it with our own ... There is a need to reaffirm our culture, not to deny
our roots and not to become affixed to them, but incorporate and grow with them".
Gobodo writes about the possible outcomes of cultural metamorphoses and claims that the
cultural melting pot failed in the United States and suggests pluralism as alternative. In
pluralism individual groups remain distinguishable but contribute to a rich wholeness. In the
same article she also writes about the complex patterns of cultural assimilation in urban areas,
but instead of full assimilation there is a pattern of acculturation. This means the adoption of
certain philosophies, morals and rituals without ever sacrificing any of your own cultural
values. Thus, where assimilation requires one to abjure the previous culture completely,
acculturation only add bits and pieces of an alien culture to the existing African culture
without provoking it unduly. Neither of these outcomes acknowledges the processes of
erosion and frittering which change the form, or nature, of the nurtured culture.
Gobodo describes modern progress and believes that: "The process of economic development
has not been proven to be affected by culture per se" and quotes Lambo "Undoubtedly,
models will vary, depending on whether the [client] comes from a rural area, where culture is
defined by traditions which are presumably relatively intact, or from urban areas, where
cultural assimilation patterns are more complex". Gobodo explains the impact this range of
cultural fracturing has on counselling [coaching]: "Thus, the challenge is with the counsellor
[coach] who should be able to make the distinction between these two groups, and also be
able to discern individual dimensions within those variations." Her research therefore makes
it clear that an individual may display a multi-culture nature. This is similar to a multi-voice
dialogical self (Hubert et al., 1993).
Gobodo then expands the argument into multiculturalism. Within multiculturalism race is not
a sufficient norm to judge if a counselling [coaching] relationship will break down or not. It
is conceivable that a person from one race may be able to empathise and share in the other's
existential world just as much as a counsellor [coach] of similar race. It is within these
experiences that the concept of the "frittered" culture emerged, because both parties sacrificed
bits and pieces of his/her root culture (erosion) and adopted bits and pieces of the alien
The above research supports the notion that Africans who encounter Occidental culture shed
off parts of their traditional culture, but hardly ever adopt the foreign culture fully. An
intermediate position is taken and the individual adopts a custom built culture. Westerners in
Africa follow a similar process and this is evident from the reflective record of a career
counsellor. The meaning patterns were extracted from the record using constructionist
analysis. These patterns of meaning, or memeplexis, are reported autoethnographically as
benefits of heutagogic learning (reflexivity), as mentioned earlier.
Reflective practice is part of experiential learning. What a coach/mentor may learn from
structured reflective practice and supervisor feedback can be enhanced in at least two ways.
The first is a summary of reflections to extract further learning opportunities. The summary is
presented as a portfolio of evidence and may form part of a summative assessment. The
second is to provoke the reflections with constructionist research and present the output as a
report. The report becomes a cumulative assessment.
Reflexivity research shows that "heutagogic learning gives multi-cultural attributes a cosmic
edge". In the research this "cosmic edge" refers specifically to how people of many cultural
backgrounds may have an interest in space travel and more generally, how they transform
into global citizens. Even young people from deep rural areas who come to the city to enlist
at a tertiary institution for academic warfare quickly adapt. They freely partake in the current
consumerism rituals and "financialization" custom of contemporary occidental culture types,
as described by Satyajit Das in his book "Extreme Money".
The research unravels how post-Apartheid thinking about diversity still falls within the
exclusive categories created by the political leaders of the Apartheid regime and completely
omit the complexity and adaptability of culture. The research states: "a diversity memeplex
evolves through transformations from popular ideological perspectives on diversity and
moves apart in a red shift... As the person's nurtured culture [fritters and] transforms within
the ecosystemic reality of people from various cultures who mingle ... cultural orientations
move closer together in a green shift". Thus, cultural transformation "is not shifting along
hard fault lines such as race and gender, but is shifting along soft fault lines such as mental
perspectives". This cultural perspective is not reflected in the narratives of politicians and
activists debating diversity issues. These complex cultural adaptation patterns are also not
acknowledged in the legislation governing diversity issues.
At least two conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of the reflections. Firstly it means
that a coach who happens to be white male and sixty plus with a high fritter ratio, may find it
difficult to establish rapport with a person of similar race, gender and age with a strong
nurture culture (low fritter ratio). The coach may however find it easy to establish rapport
with a young black female client with a similar high fritter ratio than himself. Fritter ratio
(soft fault lines) is therefore a more accurate predictor criterion for rapport than race, gender,
etc. Secondly it means that attributing culture to race is fundamentally wrong. Culture is a
synthesis of affective and cognitive repertoires and evolves with innovations in technology,
but is stretched within morphological and geographic realities.
One consequence of the research is that culture is not exclusive to humans, but also
recognisable in some other species. Another consequence is that when we think about a
person's culture and we attribute it to race, we cast it into a mould of innate stable attributes
trapped in time through traditions and with little chance for the individual to ever escape from
it. When we attribute human culture to a synthesis between emotion, cognition and available
technology, it means cultural perspectives can adapt quickly to the new environment and
individuals can build up escape energy through learning. In other words, a child who was
born into a hunter-gatherer tribe can learn to become a consumer, financial wizard or
spaceship pilot when still in his prime. Racism can hardly survive within this frittered
perspective. Where a race-based culture makes the burden of proof of fairness during sessions
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