It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers. One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic: “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.” He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip.
On a road trip from Agra to Jaipur I fell asleep only to wake up when we slowed down for a pothole the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. To my surprise, we were surrounded by a herd of camel that were walking along with the traffic. Camels of all color and all sizes surrounded the car, and there was a man and his son calling out behind them to keep them moving. Another time I looked up from reading my iPad to see a naked man walking slowly across the highway . Even in New Delhi, it is common to see cows wandering through the city streets as business people are driven to work in traffic that is six lanes deep on a three lane stretch of road.
Later in our travels, a fellow tourist in Nepal noted that people in the West (he was German) drive based on rules while people in India drive based on relationships. It took me a while to figure this one out, but after spending a lot of time in India as well as encountering Indian drivers all over Asia, I believe I understand what is meant by driving based on relationships. Drivers communicate with other drivers using their horn. There are often no signs, road markings are not followed, and essentially nothing is illegal or if illegal it is not enforced. If there is an accident, the drivers need to work it out together.
To give you a taste for it, I will share an interesting story about an Indian man who needed to be in the US on a long term business trip, requiring him to have an international driver’s license.
Ten years ago, when I was heading for America for the first time, an international driving license, I was informed, was essential if I intended to use a car there. So off I went in pursuit of one. After making a few inquiries, I soon realized that in order to get an international driving license, I first needed a local one. This took me to the office of the road transport authority and into a maze of queues. I was rescued by a tout or middleman sitting on a scooter, parked under a shady neem tree.
Tout: What do you want?
Self: A driving license
Tout: Do you have a learner’s?
Tout: Problem, big problem! Everything has to be organized. Medical, age, proof of residence . . .
Self: How much time will it take?
Tout: How much can you pay?
Self: I need it urgently.
Tout: For getting it within a week, it’ll cost you Rs. 600 (approx. $15)
Self: No, I want it today.
Tout: Rs. 2,000 ($50). Four hours only.
Tout: Sign these papers, get a photograph taken under that tent, wait for the driving test over there under the tree.
Self: I do not have a car.
Tout: It is just a formality, Sir. He’ll ask if you drive; you say yes.
Self: When will I get the license?
Tout: In four hours.
The longest it took in the whole deal was getting the photograph taken. The rest of it was a cakewalk.
Armed with my new license, I went to get my international driving license. The person in charge gave me a piece of paper and asked me to learn everything on it well for I was to be “tested.”
At the examination, I could only remember two of the thirty-six odd signs. The examiner was totally disgusted with the outcome of the examination. “Very bad, very bad,” I was told. “I am going to sign your license, but you must go home and learn all the signs.” I thanked him for signing the license and apologized profusely for not being able to learn all the signs.
Driving in India implies getting from one point to another. How you do that is your own problem. Rarely is anyone trained to park, overtake, or drive in one’s lane. The lines on the road are for decoration. They don’t mean anything to the drivers. The rear view mirror is also rarely used; most of the time it is kept folded. With so much chaos in front of the vehicles, drivers hardly bother to see what is happening in the rear. In fact, the three things you require most on Indian roads are — Good Horn, Good Brakes & Good Luck. 
This idea of driving based on relationships is an unusual one, but think of it this way. Every move you make as a driver in India is negotiated with the others around you, not based on road signs, laws governing right of way, etc. If you want to get where you need to go, you have to communicate with those other drivers and watch their actions to understand their intentions. You can’t go on auto-pilot following the rules without taking into account the actions of all the rest of your traffic community. It is all about the unpredictable things you will encounter and deal with. People are just glad to arrive alive at their destination with no personal injury or damage to their car. They don’t wish each other ill in the process, knowing they are all just doing their best.
Contrast this with Western driving where anyone not following the rules is considered a danger to self and others, a person to be dealt with sternly. It’s simply a different mindset. When a driver acts rashly or unpredictably, that person doesn’t deserve the same privilege you do of being allowed to drive, a privilege you believe you have earned by following the rules. Again, if neither of you had been given any instruction or passed a driving test to be there, you might be more forgiving of their errors. Perhaps we would have more defensive driving, watching out for each other, and less road rage. For some, the rules give a false sense of security. We believe that if we follow the rules, nothing bad will happen to us. Conversely, if something bad does happen, it must have been deserved. A rule must have been broken.
On another forum, someone mentioned having been a temple worker but being frustrated that there was so much emphasis on making minor corrections. I made a similar observation when attending the Atlanta temple. In returning my rented temple clothes, a female locker room attendant took me to task for not pinning the sash together in some way I had never seen before. I mentioned it to my mom later (she was a worker in the temple at the time), and she defended the practice saying you couldn’t return the ceremonial clothes without properly pinning it together. What was I thinking? Didn’t I know anything? I assured her this was the only temple in the dozens I had attended that had this expectation. She was incredulous and still felt their practice was the ideal one. We love our rules and the sense of control they give us.
I have also noticed that some wards are more observant than others about ensuring the sacrament prayers are read exactly correctly, even taking up to 18 tries in one prayer attempt in a sacrament meeting I attended two months ago. For a time, the instruction was to let the prayers go without perfection, but this has reverted to a requirement to read them letter perfect again. Just this week, there was a slightly horrifying “Ask Angela” in the Deseret News in which a married father of teenage boys wants to know how he should approach a recently re-activated single sister whose clothing doesn’t meet his modesty standards to correct her behavior. Fortunately, Angela Trusty, author of the column, advises him not to approach this woman at all lest he drive her away and instead to teach his sons to govern their thoughts. Unfortunately, she also suggested a passive-aggressive Relief Society activity to give modesty advice to all the ward women so this sister will get the point without being singled out. Uh huh. God bless Utah.
I recently finished a book called Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes about the ways that Westerners interpret scripture through our own cultural lens without realizing that the people in scriptures did not live in a culture that resembled our own. One chapter talked about the issue of relationships and rules, which accords with my own experiences living in Asia. Westerners tend to view all relationships in terms of rules or laws or contracts; these are somewhat superficial relationships and the laws place limitations on them to protect both parties by spelling out obligations. In the ancient world, the rules existed but they were only the visible part above the surface, not the entirety of the relationship. They did not limit the relationship, and relationships had obligations that ran deep. Most Westerners assume that the Bible delineates natural and spiritual laws. We take a very legalistic or rules-only view on the book when these cultures did not view the world through a legalistic lens.
Once we define relationships with rules, Western readers typically assume that rules (in the form of laws) must apply 100 percent of the time; otherwise, the rule is “broken.” Likewise, rules (in the form of promises) apply to 100 percent of the people involved and apply equally; otherwise, we consider the rule to be unfair. Since God is both reliable and fair, surely his rules must apply equally to all people. . . . In the ancient world, rules were not expected to apply 100 percent of the time. Israel did not keep the rules and God complained about it, but we often gloss over the reality that the rules had been broken for centuries. The covenant, however, was broken only when it became clear that the relationship was over. The end came when the relationship, not the rules, was broken.
The book goes on to cite another example of what happened in a meeting of the Convention of Indonesian Baptist Churches the author visited, and his conversation with the leader there.
“I thought this meeting was for pastors only,” I remarked to the conference organizer.
“It is,” he replied.
“But there were women in the audience,” I pointed out.
Now I was confused. “But your laws say pastors must be male!” I exclaimed.
The convention president calmly replied, “Yes, and most of them are.”
Goodness. His answer represents a fundamentally different view of law. To the non-Western mind, it seems, a law is more a guideline. 
It goes without saying that our rules focus colors our approach to practicing our religion. After my experiences in India, though, I started to question some of my natural assumptions about rules, relationships and keeping score of right and wrong. Cultural habits are hard to break. But nothing is impossible. After all, I Am Possible.
 Sadhus are a fairly common sight in India. These are men who’ve entered the fourth and final stage of life and are preparing for death by renouncing all their worldly goods (and often their clothes) and even their family relationships.
 The Holy Cow and Other Indian Stories by Tarun Chopra.
 Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
Very interesting and well articulated, something to think on!
Interesting post. So covenants and rules were different in the ancient world. Covenants were about relationships, rules were meant to be broken? How does Pharasaical thinking among the Jews fit in, and was Christ advocating a pre-Pharasaical flexibility?
nate: I think Jesus addressed that when he said “God is able to raise up Abraham’s sons from these stones.” He said they were just obeying a set of rules but not maintaining a relationship with God because they were hard-hearted.
So, I think it’s like how we have rules for our kids. When they break them, we don’t disown our kids. We correct them, but we still love them, and occasionally we realize the rules should be relaxed or aren’t helping them, so we change them. When there is no relationship without rules (e.g. employment contract) then relationships are severed over broken rules. Your boss may fire you dispassionately for not coming to work on time. Your parent probably wouldn’t. But at church, we should have deeper love for each other than we do in a work contract. We shouldn’t love rules so much that relationships are casualties because we all make mistakes, sometimes even intentionally, and not all rules are equal.
Rather interesting contrast on my experience in dealing with Indians at work. Those working in India are very rules/procedure oriented and bound (imposed by western management) and totally inflexible. It is not until you escalate that they seem to act based on relationships. Not with those they serve, but their own management. And, they seldom take responsibility for mistakes. They tend to deflect it. Part of that stems again with how they are measured by the organization, which is western.
I wonder if we are so rules oriented or actually skills oriented. We in the west, expect people to have certain skills like driving and we trust them to do so. We use the rules to enforce the skill level. So, we have trust them that they have the skills and follow the rules. is that not relationship as well?
And, Nate, really, you need to get over the Christianized view of the Pharisees. Christians use the Pharisees in a negative way without even knowing anything about them. I wrote a post a few years go on Mormon Matters, http://mormonmatters.org/2008/09/10/pharisees-bad-guys-or-bad-rap/ that you might want to look at. There are also a number of other references that explode the myth of the Pharisee as portrayed in the New Testament.
Jeff: yes, it’s true that Indians are incredibly bureaucratic, which the driving license story also illustrates. But the bureaucracy is meaningless work that really doesn’t connect to the work itself. It’s truly just busy work. If you have ever tried to fire someone for performance in India, you would find that it is nearly impossible. They would rather move a poor performer around than sever ties, and if someone leaves the company, they will often create other relationship issues with the remainder of your staff. If you fire someone for performance in the west, your good performers will be relieved and say “finally!” I found that if you do so in India, everyone will be scared, even the top people, and they will view it unfavorably.
Hawk: Thanks for that bit of information. What we see on our end is a high turnover based on intense competition in Bangalore for people. Little to no company loyalty. And, frankly, who can blame them. So we are always dealing with new people, less trained and more inclined to bureaucracy than helping their fellow employee halfway around the world.
It is totally different with the Central European folks.
Balancing Rules and Relationships as a Follower of Christ
I’ve read that there are about 600 commandments or rules in the Bible. The Savior told his followers to be perfect (Matt 5:48). At first glance one might conclude that by keeping 600 commandments one would be perfect. However, that isn’t possible. The scripture teach that the Savior was the only one to live perfectly (2 Corin 5:21).
Therefore, rule keeping is only part of the equation to be a true follower of Christ.
A careful reading of the scriptures makes it clear that we need to have a relationship with the Savior (2 Nep 25:23) in order to benefit from the atonement. That relationship is made by sincerely applying the first principles and ordinances of the gospel.
As we strive to apply the first principles, somewhere along the way we become friends with the Savior and He extends the sanctifying influence of His Spirit and thereby we become like him (Moroni 7:48).
In the end, sincerity is the key to perfection (Moroni 7:45).
Jeff: I think you might also find that while they have no loyalty to your company, their relationships with one another are complex and deep. I found people to cover for one another’s mistakes in ways they don’t in the western world. They don’t care much about our notions of fairness. They want to be taken care of. They will leave if someone else pays them more or gives higher titles. They think all deadlines are negotiable, and they simply will never say no, even when they mean no.
Jared: good comment.
Is it a product of the benevolent British? My wife’s Grandfather was born there and there were at least three generations there. Though they were Irish.
The story of the Indonesian baptist convention reminds me of Brigham Young, who would preach harshly (e.g. ALL bishops and stake presidents must live plural marriage or be removed from their places) but in actual practice was far more lenient (he never removed anyone, and fully 1/3 of the leaders were monogamists).
Ardis has posted other examples on her blog (http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2009/08/19/random-reasons-why-i-like-brigham-young-two/)
It seems the early saints (of this dispensation) were more Old Testament culture than we are, and I wonder if they understood this rules/relationship thing better than us moderns.
“Is it a product of the benevolent British?”
Are you referring to the bureaucracy or the covering for mistakes here Jeff? I could see the former might well be a hangover form colonial days, especially as there seem to be so many informal work-arounds.
Not so long ago there was an interesting series of radio programs looking at British Indian (born and brought up in this country) entrepreneurs setting up businesses back in India. One of the difficulties they encountered was the corruption (as they viewed these workarounds) they had to deal with. This contrasted with my uncle’s experience as factory supervisor of mainly Indian immigrants to Britain 30 or more years ago, where he did have to deal with them covering for eachother, amongst other things. He learnt their languages in order to be able to properly do his job.
My husband works for what was a British engineering company, now part of a much larger US group. The US group bemoan that much of the British culture stubbornly persists, in spite of their best efforts at integration. One of the differences is the level of personal accountability in the British culture. The British engineering drawings are initialed by the individual who drew them up, and when wishing to ask questions, it is possible to phone that individual who will be able to talk you through the drawing where necessary, and offer explanations. The US drawings are anonymous. Questions have to be directed to a department, and the best you can hope for is that the person on the end of the line will admit they know which drawing you are talking about, and can answer any questions. To the British this all looks as though the US engineers are terrified of possible litigation, which presumably is less of a threat in Britain.
Which got me thinking about how the church functions, in what appears to me to be a very US model. It’s my understanding that individuals in the Roman Curia, for instance, are far more accountable for the materials they put out, than much of the faceless and nameless material coming out of COB.
“Are you referring to the bureaucracy or the covering for mistakes here Jeff?”
No, that they want to be taken care of. I have British folks that works for me and I didn’t find much difference in the personal accountability between them and other folks. But, I also work for a company that stresses it. Personal accountability is (or has been) a key part of our culture. Which is why working with our newer Indian colleagues can be so frustrating.
I think the wanting to be taken care of is a byproduct of communitarian societies more than colonialism, but I’m no sociologist. I experienced some of that attitude in other Asian countries as well. So I guess I would say the communitarian values are why they remained under British rule for so much longer than we did, despite being remote from Britain in both cases.
“Nate, really, you need to get over the Christianized view of the Pharisees. Christians use the Pharisees in a negative way without even knowing anything about them.”
Thanks Jeff for the link to your post on the Pharisees. I can certainly believe that the Pharisees were caricatured in the Gospels by Christian partisans. It seems to me however, that modern Hassidic Jews flaunt their fanatical legalism in even greater caricature than the Pharisees dipicted in the Gospels, and to me, it seems reasonable that their ancient counterparts would have been just as fanatical, if not more so, than those who live today, who throw rocks at cars driving on Yom Kippur and such.
In our Church and culture much of the desire to live the rules comes from corresponding blessing as promised in the D&C
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
The more I test this, the more I see it is true.
Well, so far as church function goes, I’ve no objection to members be expected to read and follow the handbook, in carrying out their callings, provided local leaders can make local adaptations to programs to fit local circumstances. On the other hand, what has been driving me wild recently is being asked to read the handbook in relation to my calling and do what I think best, only to be opposed at every turn (even whilst following the handbook), for reasons which have nothing to do with local adaptation, and everything to do with the ‘unwritten order’ or ‘non-distraction’ (which itself strikes me more as an after the fact excuse – ie. someone, somewhere in authority takes exception to something, and can decide to label it as a distraction, so you can’t do it, and noone can argue – in theory – I did), or those peculiar directives which seem to come from somewhere above stake level, who knows from who or when, or at what point they are no longer in force, but which aren’t in the handbook.
So we can’t stand for the intermediate hymn because of some directive at some point which didn’t want us standing because it might become a ‘tradition’ (and sitting hasn’t?). Similarly it has been these types of directives which appear to have been responsible at various points over the last 2 decades for women not being allowed to say closing prayers in sacrament meeting.
And then there are various interpretations of the handbook. So for me, selecting appropriate hymns for instance, means Christmas carols at Christmas, Easter hymns at Easter, sacrament hymns for the sacrament, topical hymns for talks perhaps, it means not singing welcome welcome sabbath morning if your meetings are in the afternoon, or any of those evening hymns at a 9.30am sacrament meeting, or singing about being surrounded by mountains when all is flat for miles around. It doesn’t mean not selecting less familiar hymns, because further down the handbook specifically states there should be a balance of the well-loved and less familiar…. and then apparently some have decided to label unfamiliar hymns a distraction by golly…
And how are we to distinguish between a ‘performance’and worship, for musical items. So far as I can tell, it only depends on who those singing believe they are singing to and for. It’d be nice to think that would come across to the congregation.
To be fair to my local leaders, I think we have now ironed out differences, for the moment.
But really, surely what matters is the people themselves, not worrying so much about if you’re following every minutia of every directive, or so worried about there being any distractions (and really that is so subjective), that you micromanage everything.
“It seems to me however, that modern Hassidic Jews flaunt their fanatical legalism in even greater caricature than the Pharisees dipicted in the Gospels,”
While true, this is typical behavior of most orthodox or fundamentalist type believers. You see it in Christian denominations as well as in our Church as well. This is a prideful attitude and clearly different than the Pharisees acted in context to their times. Not different, however, based on the manner in which they are portrayed..
Will on October 15, 2013 at 7:26 PM
In our Church and culture much of the desire to live the rules comes from corresponding blessing as promised in the D&C
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
The more I test this, the more I see it is true.
That’s funny, my experience has been just the opposite. In my mission the secret of success was to live the handbook. Just live all the rules and all would be well. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. It wasn’t until I read Richard Poll’s essay on iron rod and liahonas that I saw that though comforting to live all the rules there were no guarantees.
Nature or Nurture? Both.
Rules or Relationships? Both. We do seem to focus on the rules a lot, and some consideration of relationships from time to time can only be healthy.
An earlier poster described a difficult situation where a bishop and ward music leader don’t always agree — is this a rules problem or a relationship problem? She wants the congregation to stand for the rest hymn; he wants to stay seated. This really isn’t a big deal, one way or the other, but it can be blown out of reasonable proportion to where it becomes a problem.
I was once in a ward where we always stood for the rest hymn — then we got a new bishop from Utah and the standing had to stop — then a few years later, along came a new bishop and the standing resumed sometimes — so we went from always to never to sometimes. Some bishops don’t really care and leave it up to the ward music leader. Some bishops do care and insist that their viewpoint prevails. This difference from bishop to bishop doesn’t indicate any serious problem or fundamental flaw — it’s just the reality of human beings, and I’m okay with that. I prefer this ambiguity over a church handbook that addresses and solves every possible “problem” of this sort.
ji, I agree with your point, though the specific I outlined was a lot complicated than you assume. I’m the new ward music chairman, so I don’t conduct the music. The also relatively new Bishopric had agreed we could stand for the intermediate hymn. They were happy to. This happened for a few weeks. But then the stake presidency member in our ward (who had been elsewhere) protested that this should not have happened, and mentioned a somewhat nebulous directive that had originated above stake presidency level, that I mentioned in my earlier comment. Plus there was then some reinterpretation of the handbook, does a priesthood leader can invite the congregation to stand, mean that they must be specifically invited every week they’ll be standing (which seems ridiculous, but which was eventually the accepted definition in for my bishopric) or issue an ongoing invitation just the once… Our bishopric are very very nervous about getting things wrong at the moment, which I can appreciate, but still the standing sitting was one of the relatively minor issues…
Just to add the confusion, I was visiting the ward of the stake president last Sunday, and they all stood, without a specific invite from presiding officer issued in that meeting.
This is what I was getting at with my comment. These weird directives, where some area authority or other gets a bee in their bonnet about something, seem to take on a life of their own, and depending who is in charge might or might not be seen as current.
I think the main thing I’ve learned from considering the rules vs. relationships dynamic is that rules should never substitute for relationships (sounds like a rule!), not with God, not with our fellow man. Yet it is a real pull for westerners to reduce relationships to rules. For example, consider the feminist movement’s objections. Earlier feminists objected to their social contract: the limitations placed on them due to their sex (more limited than men), the duties relegated to them (worse than to men), and the benefits they were allotted (less than men). But relationships transcend those social contracts. The social contract for women a hundred years ago meant her husband could beat or rape her and she had no legal rights, but this would only happen if there was no loving relationship (or he was a psychopath). So the rules are important to protect people, but they don’t substitute for a relationship, while a relationships does substitute well for rules. If you have a healthy mutually beneficial relationship, neither party is exploited.
I understand, Hedgehog. Just as I as moving out of one stake in Colorado Springs, Colorado, several years ago, the stake president told everyone at stake conference that our ward organists play too loudly and they need to play more meditatively — shortly after I moved to another stake in the same city, the stake president there (many years younger than the other stake president) said in stake conference that our organists need to play more vigorously to help the congregants sing more vigorously — and the two stake presidents were partners in the same law firm! Yes, someone makes an observation or comment, and others interpret it as doctrine all too often…
I think I know who you are talking about! We didn’t live here then. But, the differing styles of Church leaders can be a bit baffling if they are reading the same handbook and especially, if they are going to the same meetings with the GAs/AAs.
ji: just to add an example of what you are saying, a good friend of mine was hosting some of the apostles in a meeting in the UK. A local leader asked a procedural question, and one of the junior apostles was eager to answer. Pres. Packer stopped the junior apostle and cautioned him that whatever stray comments he makes will be held as doctrine and enforced as such, so it was important to tread lightly in answering these detailed questions. Now, I’m not saying it has stopped anyone, but it is apparently something the apostles try to bear in mind.
I appreciate President Packer’s observation.
I am okay with some of this diversity — letting local leaders handle matters as best they can — I wouldn’t want a handbook that answered every question — the current handbook allows but doesn’t mandate standing for the rest hymn — that’s fine with me. Too often, there seems to be too much concern about control — I understand the need for control, but too much can be too much — and less interest in involvement. I’d like to see more voluntary interest in involvement, but I know that some members in leadership callings cannot stretch that far.
“rules should never substitute for relationships (sounds like a rule!), not with God, not with our fellow man.”
I like that. I like it a lot.
As I do the reminder that Packer often wanted GAs to tread lightly.