Cross-Cultural Fluency & The Role Of Faith (Part VII)

NOTE: This is Part VII of a series of blog posts related to cross-cultural fluency and the family business.

Religion is generally far more important to newcomers than to residents of Canada. A 2018 poll by Angus Reid in partnership with Cardus, an Ottawa-based think tank, showed that immigrants are twice as likely as Canadians to attend religious services regularly. The poll reported that “This propensity is borne out in relation to the spiritual continuum. Indeed, four-in-ten first-generation Canadians (39%) are among the most faithfully intense segment – the Religiously Committed. This represents almost twice the proportion of the average population and more than a two-to-one ratio when compared to Canadians whose grandparents were born in Canada (39 percent to 17 percent).” Why?

Whereas for many Canadians, religion may be viewed as a bygone weekend hobby for a minority, for newcomers it is their very identity. It defines their existence. They may be part of a minority that is fleeing persecution because of their religious identity and actions. There are many examples, such as Christians from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East, Sikhs from Punjab in India and Jews from post-World War II Europe.

What are the implications of this situation for working with these newcomers to Canada? In the previous series of blog posts, I highlighted commonalities among different ethnic groups that move to, and often prosper in Canada. In total there are six commonalities—or factors—I referred to collectively as the “Cross-Cultural Fluency Model.” Each factor in the Cross-Cultural Fluency Model is one aspect of the nature of the interaction between a particular Subculture and the dominant mainstream culture. The factors discussed in the previous blog posts included: the immigrant experience, the view of family, the family business and the dynamic of forever feeling like an outsider.

The fifth factor in the Cross-Cultural Fluency Model, revised in this blog, relates to the role of faith. In order to understand and work with many newcomers, an appreciation of the primary role of faith in people’s lives is critical to relating to them. For many ethnic groups, faith and culture are intertwined and faith becomes part of their identity.

In the Dominant Culture across Canada, the role of faith has diminished considerably over the last few decades. The attendance of religious services has slowly dropped and thus many in the mainstream are not familiar with religious observances and ceremonies, except for their exposure by way of weddings and an occasional funeral. Understanding this nuance is critical to working well with the owners of a family business that is part of a subculture.

In many Subculture groups, the role of faith is central to their community. To some extent, religious institutions—whether the church, mosque, synagogue or Gurdwara—often become de facto community centres. Within the mainstream, religious observances have diminished and discussion of the topic seems to be divisive and a source of disagreement, one often best left alone. An advisor will need to be aware of this dynamic to effectively communicate with people from various cultural backgrounds.

One example is the Sikh community in Canada, which numbers about 500,000. The vast majority of immigrants in Canada from India are part of the Sikh religion. Sikhism is a religion that originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century. Though it is one of the youngest of the major religions, it is the world's fifth-largest organized religion, as well as the world's ninth-largest overall religion, with about 25 million Sikhs as of the early 21st century. Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru (1469–1539), and the nine Sikh Gurus that succeeded him. It would be very challenging to understand and work with an Indian immigrant of Sikh religion without having an appreciation of their faith and associated festivals and celebrations.

Another example is the Dutch community in Canada. Many Dutch immigrants are closely identified and connected with their church. There are several key denominations, such as Canadian Reformed, Christian Reformed, and United Reformed, each with their own subcultures. In the Dutch community, there has traditionally been a strong commitment to private Christian education. Many private Christian elementary and high schools, and even universities, have their origins in the Dutch community. These educational institutions are the clearest reflection of the Dutch community in Canada and a natural focal point. There are no Dutch community centres in Canada—they exist through churches.

This same dynamic would exist in other subcultures. To understand individuals, there must be an understanding of their values. For religious individuals, these values are inextricable from their faith. Their legacy will be rooted in their faith perspective. Their religion will be reflected in the causes they support. So, to understand the family enterprise would necessitate an awareness of the role that religion plays in the lives of immigrant individuals, in ways that often diverge from the mainstream.

To understand newcomers to Canada it is important to recognize the difference between Subcultures—of different ethnic backgrounds—and the Dominant Culture. In Subcultures, the approach towards the family business is very different than in the Dominant Culture. The importance of understanding the contrasting views of the family business is one more pillar of the cross-cultural fluency model which helps in understanding newcomers from various cultural backgrounds as they fit into Canada. At Nicola Wealth, the firm where I work, cross-cultural fluency is an asset in understanding and relating to newcomers who have started family businesses and who have prospered, generally, by playing the long game.