Term Paper: Cultural Awareness Americans

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[. . .] In summary, both the Hmong people and the indigenous tribes of Africa have concepts of illness and healing that are in direct contrast with Western concepts identifying health and illness with the physical body. Some of the concepts - such as the importance of community - have yet to find resonance in the Western world. When these concepts collide, a lack of cultural awareness can have tragic results.

Viewed in this light, physicians and health workers are faced more arduous requirements, to be culturally sensitive as well as medically competent. This awareness is already having positive results, as seen in the growing number of medical institutions that offer classes in various cultural health traditions.

Spirituality

Even prior to the wave of immigrants from African and Asia, the United States already had a plurality of religions. Since the country was founded on the precepts of religious freedom, the United States had often taken great pains to enshrine protections for different religions. Most of the religions that proliferated in the United States, however, share Judeo-Christian roots. As such, there was much commonality in the basic religious precepts.

These precepts - that there is a Supreme Being who created and unifies the cosmos - are directly challenged by the burgeoning movement of postmodernity. As Stanley Grenz succinctly explains, "Postmoderns denounce the pretense of those who claim to view the world from a transcendent vantage point from which they are able to speak imperiously to and on behalf of all humankind" (38).

This postmodern viewpoint is a direct challenge to cultural absolutists who will argue that Lia's parents were negligent for not following Western medical treatment, or that Lia's physicians were wrong for not allowing her parents to sacrifice pigs and chickens in the hospital parking lot. Similarly, a Westerner's ridicule for the community rituals of indigenous Africa would be as short-sighted as a tribemember's refusal to take medication to heal the physical body as well.

These various cultural beliefs about the soul and spirituality are further challenges for Christianity, which for centuries has battled scientific truths. In the past, the Church has actively sought to stamp out these scientific truths and concepts, as seen in the trial of Galileo. This reaction was prompted by the Church's desire to be the sole source of the "good news," the only narrator of "all-encompassing truths.'

Such a goal is not attainable, maintains Grenz, because there is no one single, all-encompassing truth. Instead, there are a multiplicity of meanings that are largely dependent on the background and worldview of the person who is discerning the concept or event. Thus, "just as a text will be read differently by each reader...so reality will be read differently by each knowing self that encounters it. This means that there is no one meaning of the world, no transcendent center to reality as a whole" (Grenz, 6).

Already, the Church has responded to the challenges from science by adapting to new scientific claims. Some leaders, for example, assert that the presence of a Supreme and benevolent Being can be discerned from the order and life present in the universe.

The greater challenges to the dominant Western religious traditions, however, are coming from divergent religious viewpoints present among cultures like the Hmong and the indigenous African tribes.

Hmong religious rituals, for example, involve animal sacrifice, a concept that may seem primitive and repugnant to many Western people. Fadiman, however, locates this sacrifice in the larger context of Hmong spirituality. Unlike Westerners, the Hmong believe that the animals have souls that are bound to the souls of chosen humans. A sacrificed animal is first honored, and then slaughtered. The whole animal - including internal organs -- is then consumed by the participants in the ritual (Fadiman 107).

For scholar Eric Crystal, this sacrificial process is no different, especially since "people actually have to kill animals to eat them" (cited in Fadiman 107). Crystal further points out that chickens in the supermarket have been slaughtered in factories, a process that often involves discarding huge amounts of meat. Compared to this waste, Crystal observes that the Hmong ritual is more respectful of the animal, as well as more ecologically sound (Fadiman 107).

In the same way, Some observes the lack of ritual, community and nature in the spiritual practices of the West. Westerners often do not recognize their earthly roots, their ties to elements like fire, water, nature and earth. Christian theology would undoubtedly have problems with such "pagan" symbolism. To the Dagara, however, honoring the earth is also a way of celebrating connections with the rest of humanity, a goal to which Christianity also aspires.

Changing worldviews

Some fears for Western society, since a culture often sows the seeds of its destruction in its refusal to accept change. These readings, however, show that much insight and growth can be achieved through a concerted effort to understand divergent cultural concepts. The case of Lia, for example, shows that better communication on the part of the physicians and the Hmong community will have beneficial results for both parties. The healthcare givers will be able to practice their professions more effectively and with less stress, while the Hmong will have access to a higher standard of medical care.

Divergent viewpoints, however, need not be a result of disparate cultures.

For example, various definitions regarding the role of women can be seen in the barriers that continue to exist against women in athletic careers. More than 30 years after Congress passed Title IX which prohibited sex discrimination in education and athletic programs, girls continue to be on the sidelines when it comes to sports. Much of the opposition lies in the prevailing cultural view that girls and women need to be protected from harm, preferably by men. However, research has repeatedly shown that in addition to health benefits, participation in sports generally leads to significant benefits in a young person's academic and professional careers (Feminist Research Center).

To simply accept that there is a multiplicity of worldviews is not a satisfying response, since the result would be chaotic. However, as each divergent view collides with one another, efforts should be made to understand the opposite side. With a concerted effort, the end result may be a synthesis - an amalgamation of both views that incorporates the essence of divergent cultural concepts into a form that reflects the rich diversity of this country.

Works Cited

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

Feminist Research Center. "Empowering Women in Sports." Empowering Women in Sports. March 1995. Feminist Majority Foundation. 17 April 2003 http://www.feminist.org/research/sports6.html.

Grenz, Stanley. A Primer on Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996.

Some, Malidoma Patrice. The Healing Wisdom… [END OF PREVIEW]

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