The work of trees and cultures

Dec 3, 2020 | 0 comments

When you think of trees, I doubt that the word “work” comes to mind. Maybe stately. Or peaceful. We might value the beauty of a deep green forest as the sun filters through layers of leaves. We might think of the hardy trees, clinging against all odds to the side of a rock mountain. 

But probably not the word “work.” 

But there is a common thread to all of those images of the beauty of trees: work! 

It is work for the trees to grow into stately, majestic, peaceful strength. It is the work of green pigments in the leaves that gives that deep beauty as the sun filters through the forest canopy. The resilience of roots growing into cracks in the stone face of a mountain is “work.” The power behind all of those images of tree life is the amazing work of capturing the energy of sunlight and converting it into growing, stately, green plant life. 

Just thinking about this makes me take a moment to thank our wise God for such an apparently simple “work.” Those simple green pigments are the energy base for physical life on our planet! 

Within that idea of work, there is diversity. Not all plants work the same way! A cactus plant has green pigments all over instead of just in leaves. A pine tree does this work in its green needles while a deciduous plant has flat leaves. All are examples of biological work, but done in different ways. 

Even in the world of flat leaves there are different ways that plants work. Remember back to your high school biology class? You probably heard about the difference between C3 and C4 plants. (It is worth using your favorite search engine to remind yourself of how some plants create a three carbon chain, and others use a different four carbon pathway). 

Plants are all about growing, and they use different kinds of work to fulfill that purpose. 

Moving to the Culture Tree, cultures are also about thriving, and they also have a range of different “work” that they do! Social researcher Geert Hofstede talks about the kinds of work that a culture might value under the title of “masculine and feminine cultures.” ( 

There are cultural preferences in the kind of work that is emphasized and valued. Some groups emphasize factories and armies. Those cultures want strong transportation. Their industry and economic machines are well protected and well supplied. Their preference is for work that results in strong industry, infrastructure, and military. 

Other cultures appreciate a different outcome to work. They emphasize meeting human needs. Money and labor are directed toward medical care, education, and a nurturing environment. Nutrition, health, education, and the social well-being of the people are the highest work for this second kind of culture. 

Different cultures do their work in different ways. 

As you settle into an unfamiliar national or regional culture, here are some ways to use this insight: 

1. Remember that an understanding of what is the most important work grows from the roots of the tree – from the deep cultural traits of values, beliefs, and definitions of good and beautiful and true. 

Learn the values and ideals that are common within your new community. Do they value the hardware and infrastructure? Or do you hear more discussion about nutrition and education? Find out! Learn what kind of production is most highly valued among the people. 

2. Remember that you also come from a culture with preferences for the kind of work that should be done. As you interact with your neighbors in the new land where you live, don’t be surprised if their values and preferences for the kind of work to do are quite different than yours! You might disagree with the values and preferences of the place where you now live. Hopefully being aware of these differences can help you to face them with more understanding and less discomfort. 

3. This cultural value is one of the strong reasons why we teach ministry “with” instead of ministry “for.” Over the centuries there have been many misunderstandings when one Christian group favored health and education while another built ministry through buying new lands, putting up buildings, and buying new vehicles. The best way forward is to build ministry together, recognizing each other’s values when it comes to work and production, but growing toward a wise application of the values seen in God’s Word.

Which insight could you use today, even if you’re not new to a culture?

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Photo by Jyotirmoy Gupta on Unsplash

Mark Hedinger

Practical Visionary. Director of Culture Bound.. Husband. Life-long learner.




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