Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

What other basic advice do you have in relating to Afghans?

Anthropologist and consultant Dr. Whitney Azoy answered the following questions on Afghanistan.

What other basic advice do you have in relating to Afghans?

The key concept is respect. No matter who the man is – rich/poor, old/young, powerful/puny, military/civilian, ally/rival – treat him with respect. Be aware of your posture, gesture, facial expression, tone of voice. Unless all of these imply respect, you will fail in whatever encounter.

The reason for this emphasis on respect is that, in a society with few formal ranks or offices, everyone is obsessed with his own image-management. To maintain a positive image to the world, a person must be shown evidence of respect. Disrespect cannot go unanswered. Afghans may seem thin-skinned in this matter. Remember that they – and only they – are responsible for saving their skins, for staying alive in an extremely contentious society. There’s no 911 to call in a crisis. Honor and respect are their first and last lines of defense.

Cross-gender relationships are also governed by respect and honor. Here these notions are taken to an extreme of more or less total avoidance. When in doubt, men should not initiate contact with Afghan women. And women need to be very careful about their manner of relating to Afghan men.

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