There has been some discussion recently on EmpowHer regarding the fine line between:
a) sharing health information and asserting our differing opinions or sharing experiences, versus
b) commenting on others’ opinions and disagreeing, versus,
c) disagreeing with others' choices and adding a tinge of judgment or critique of the person's choices.
In reading through some “cultural competency” literature, I thought it was interesting to share some insights regarding the differences between merely “tolerating” another opinion vs. openly being receptive, curious and wanting to learn about the different culture/behavior/choice. Luckily, we have not seen much (if any) of the extreme cultural “destructiveness” (actively showing hostility), and what we’ve encountered most is cultural openness and some cultural proficiency. I explain all of these definitions below.
I would love to hear: which category best explains you, in most circumstances? Are you a different level of cultural competency, depending on if you are interacting face-to-face or communicating online? What do the implications or impact on your cultural competency is on your overall health and well-being (think: stress level, feeling balanced and at peace, general emotional wellness)?
When I use the word “culture” here, I am referring to anything that is used to describe a person’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, weight, lifestyle choices, personality characteristics, hair color…you name it!
Cultural Destructiveness, as mentioned above that we do not see much (if at all) on EmpowHer, is actively showing hostility and avoiding knowledge about a person’s culture/choices. In the recent discussion example (link above), this would include showing hostility toward a mother who is breastfeeding in public or formula-feeding her newborn, whichever side of the coin you oppose.
Cultural Incapacity is the belief that you tolerate a certain culture/behavior…but only as long as they are at a distance from you. For instance, a women can publicly breastfeed or formula feed a newborn, as long as “I don’t see it or hear about it”. The “separate but equal” train of thought is extremely harmful; remember how well that worked in our nation’s history…it led to segregation and even more discrimination!
Cultural Blindness is treating everyone alike sounds good, however it is out of this ambivalence that the “dominant culture/behavior” is compared to, and all behaviors are based on this one comparison. It creates an ethnocentric way of thinking and behaving.
So…what we aspire to, as far as learning from others’ experiences and knowledge, is to become Culturally Proficient, where we are comfortable with others’ uniqueness, their choices, and are attuned to both similarities and differences. Cultural Competence is the act of actively seeking advice and consult from a myriad of different people, and Cultural Openness is someone who is curious, receptive and actively listening and learning from another’s experiences and choices. A culturally proficient person is able to integrate a "differing culture's" experiences, behaviors and choices to enhance their own life. Now, that is powerful!
In the breastfeeding vs. formula feeding example, the act of "being curious" would translate to women asking questions about another women’s choice (especially one that they disagree with) and using their new found knowledge to enhance their own life or expand their knowledge on a different situation, circumstance or reasoning. They do not need to agree, but neither do they need to critique or judge. They merely accept that this new behavior, choice or culture was "outside their awareness". So, if a women decides to publicly breastfeed (if that is outside of your awareness) or if a women chooses to provide formula to her infant instead of breastfeeding (again, if that is outside of your comfort zone), then gathering information, respecting differing opinions, and ideally, using this information to expand your realm of knowledge creates a society of culturally proficient individuals.
Do you consider yourself culturally open, competent, proficient?
Do you consider yourself culturally blind?
What if the topic is on breastfeeding, bottle feeding, smoking, gay marriage, war, religion, abortion. Can you still say you are culturally proficient?
I'd love to hear your stories!
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