Archive for the ‘ Culture ’ Category

“Who are YOU?”

said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

In a training I had recently for work, we spent some time on a section called “Dealing with Diversity” (a classic title that always has me shaking my head) and we were told to write down at least five cultural dimensions that reflect who we are. Just for fun, I encourage you to also do this before reading further.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • Faith
  • Multiethnic
  • Low income
  • Single/independent
  • Female
  • A liberal
  • College graduate
  • Native English speaker
  • Non-profit employee
  • World traveler

…there are of course, many other dimensions to me, as to all of us.

Then we were asked to share how we are stereotyped by some of our cultural associations. Take a moment and think about some ways you might also be stereotyped by what you put down on your list and how some of those stereotypes may  not be accurate to you.

This exercise I think helped many of us understand that you can’t just judge a book by its cover. I believe that stereotypes work only as a framework to suggest possibilities when interacting with individuals or communities, but not to be used as assumptions or labels. It’s a pretty important thing for me to remember as I work in an Asian counseling center with a vast range of diversity among primarily the Asian Pacific Islander population in Seattle. Lots of dynamics there.

I won’t mention them all, but here are some assumptions often made about a couple of my cultural aspects: 1) my Christian theology and my liberalism are mutually exclusive. Most Christians I have interacted with assume I have more conservative values and most liberals I interact with assume I am not a Christian based on my liberal opinions. 2) Because I am a native English speaker and fluent in the dominant North American culture, people assume this is who I am. In fact, I don’t always feel like I can associate myself with the dominant American culture; such is true otherwise: I do not always feel like I can relate to the Latin culture and ethnic groups.

Based on the two observations above, I don’t feel that there is one predominate culture group I associate myself with. I’m so evenly divided in many cultural aspects and I’m afraid I have slipped between the socio-politico cracks. I find myself in the gray area, the no-man’s land of culture because I am unique.

But aren’t we all? The purpose of the cultural exercise is, of course, to show how none of us fit exactly into a cookie cutter. At least, those of us who live in a non-homogenous culture. The best that we can offer when interacting with others is the respect that we may all feel differently, view things differently, make decisions differently, and believe differently. Like Alice, we probably change several times a day that who’s to be sure of who we are?

“You Seem American to Me”

I struggle with finding balance for all my experiences and characteristics. It seems that others have a much easier time at expressing themselves in all the ways that they can. Like most Americans, I am multi-ethnic, meaning that I have more than one ethnicity. But my background is more than that, too. I have a Caucasian father and a Puerto Rican mother (and if anyone knows anything about Puerto Ricans, it’s that no matter what percentage it is, it’s Puerto Rican blood nonetheless). I’m not quite multi-cultural in the sense that I was raised in two cultures, but my mom did her best to teach me about Puerto Rican traditions. I’m apparently not really biracial, either, as one co-worker remarked “you seem American to me” after I commented about being biracial. She prodded further, “Do you really consider yourself biracial?” As if to disbelieve that I could be anything more than the one-dimensional office admin.

That’s my issue: people fail to see the multi-dimensional me and I want them to see that. And it’s more than just culture and race, too. I have diverse experiences around the world and in several different communities that it’s hard to piece together. My life feels scattered all over the world, like a dissembled jigsaw puzzle. It’s not that I want the whole world to see who I am–that wouldn’t be possible anyway–but I would like a few friends to see that at least. I think the first time I realized that I wanted a lifelong companion to share all these aspects with was when I stood in front of the Acropolis for the first time and thought “no one will ever know what this means to me.” I want someone to be there for all the important moments in life. Instead, the closest I can get to have that kind of intimacy is in the retelling of those events.

So, my dear co-worker, you see me as the receptionist. But have you seen me with my Puerto Rican family? Have you seen me teach a class? Have you been with me while I lived in the remote areas of Uganda? Or worshipped in a church? In each part of life I am a little different, sometimes very different. I long for someone to see and accept it. Even more, I long for a place where I fit in–but I don’t think there is any place that has all the pieces of the puzzle for me.

Healthcare Mentality

What is goal of medicine? To cure, of course! It’s supposed to restore health that has degraded. Does it matter how health is restored? Do the means really justify the ends?

To some, this is a complicated issue. Sometimes it’s a political issue (health care plans versus copay), sometimes it’s economical (whether medicinal marijuana will boost jobs and overall market), and sometimes it’s a spiritual conflict (going to witch-doctors or going to church for prayer). And it’s a cultural issue (surprised?).

Western medicine: a cultural analysis

As always, culture seems to affect everything–even our pursuit of the “right” medicine. Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how Western our clinics really are and that there are other forms of medicine that are also valuable to our health. MD’s obtained their degree in Western medical schools, or are otherwise not recognized as valid. In the U.S. and Europe, MD’s have the highest standing in medicine, and all other forms are almost considered imitation, fraudulent, mythical, or evil. Yet actually, many of these other forms of medicine have existed for millennia longer than the relatively recent scientific methods, that have become standardized until around the 18th century during the late modernity phase (at least roughly around that time). It has become so widely accepted since then that the government health care reform and basic health care plans are limited to licensed physicians and clinics.

Western medicine (biomedical) is really about the science. Every prescription drug is tested in a lab to determine if it works. There is extensive research behind finding cures for diseases and the elements in prescripted and most over-the-counter drugs are often manufactured with chemical components. Western medicine, like Western thought, has a vertical alignment: it’s about control and mastery of the disease. The scientific method we use today is mechanistic and limited to what can be seen and tested. What we don’t see and don’t know by facts or tests frighten us; our trust in medicine is in the statistics.

Yet despite our general fear of natural medicine (such as naturopathology) there is a growing trend for yoga, acupuncture, and organic herbs and foods–all of which are ancient Eastern remedies. This may be because testing and statistical analysis gives a positive report on these health methods. (Alternatively, the testing and statistics that show common household products and food as harmful is not always accepted.)

A look at natural medicine

Natural medicine really stems from the humoral theory, which assumes that the balance of the “four humors” is a healthy state, and when one humor is deficient it indicates illness. Natural medicine is also based on natural interactions and is more horizontal in its relationships. For example, earth, wind, water, and fire are all equal in nature and without harmony, this also affects people and life. In this case, all aspects of life are considered to affect health either positively or negatively. Unlike Western medicine, it has no sense of “ego” or “I” as something that should begiven priority or authority over matter. One thing affects the other, in a way. The earth supplies natural remedies when things are ill: ginseng, for example, is known as the “cure-all” by the Chinese. Although to the West, this is almost laughable, but to the Chinese, it has apparently worked to some degree, as it has remained in their traditional medicine for a very long time.

Personalistic Stystems

The most over-looked form of healing is probably the spiritual, which to many people, has no linkage to the flesh whatsoever. How could the spiritual realm reach into the physical? Ever since the Age of Reason and Enlightenment Era, the supernatural has mostly been left out of the equation. It rejected anything to do with spirituality and thereafter has been heavy focus on science. Anything that is superstitious, magical, or religious falls into the excluded category for healing. Even the word healing itself is often associated with spiritual methods. Yet should the West reject the spiritual for help in wellness as we typically do with natural remedies that we are once again learning may actually help? The problem with spiritual assistance is that it requires a submission of control. For many people, this is too much to give up; it’s one thing to extend to the suggestions of natural health teachings, but another to rest the power in the supernatural.

When I was in Uganda, my host mother explained to me that when a person is ill it is because they are spiritually ill. The two are hand in hand. Balance. What is so wrong or scary about seeking that? Yet when natural remedies like ginseng are nearly made fun of, how much more is calling after a spiritual being? Unfortunately, anything like this is seen as  primitive–as something illogical. Although the West is considered going into post-modern era, Western epistemology is still immersed in the Age of Reason.

Politics, economics, religion and culture do affect our decision making with health care. Whatever medical theory we subscribe to, it is impossible to separate from worldview.