Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Keys to Understanding

 Halima Adan
                                                       Keys to Understanding  

            I have had the privilege of having experienced both western and non-western cultures; however growing up with mainly a non-western culture with its values has shaped my assumptions of everything that’s outside my culture.  I was taught to value, respect and take care of my elders. For example when our parents, elders or other relatives need care we are responsible to care for them as just as they took care of us in our earliest stages of life.   I was taught to never speak back to, not only elders, but to anyone who’s older than I.  Even something as small as addressing elders by their first name is seen as extremely disrespectful. Because of this many younger Somali people address any elder as aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather. This cultural rule has even made it difficult for me to address my professors by their first name.  Throughout my years in schooling I have struggled with balancing my Somali culture with the American culture.  Therefore I have developed the assumption that westerners do not care for their elders. I have come to this conclusion by observing many elders being put into nursing homes.

            In the article “Cultural Assumptions and Values” by Stewart, Danielian, and Foster (1998)” the authors state “what is an assumption for one individual, or for one culture, may be a value for another individual or for another culture” (158) Having said this, it is clear to me that the assumptions I make are fully coming from my cultural teachings, which have given me a very narrow vision.  What I was taught to value is “karma”, which means,  “What you put out is what you get back”. I was told that if I took care of my elders now, when I reach an age where I need assistance, I will be helped out by the younger ones. So when I came to America and saw elderly folks put into nursing homes I immediately thought that they didn’t take care of their own elders and therefore they received “karma”. My assumptions have led me to look at the elderly and the younger generation of America differently.

            I have recognized that making a broad assumption about everyone from a culture that is different from mine is dangerous.  This is because we lack knowledge about the unseen and implicit differences in each culture.  Along with my assumptions came a certain judgment of negativity placed upon others that tended to make my own culture be superior to another culture. What I failed to realize is that my view of the western world was based on views of that culture only.   I forgot to  I forgot to assess my own culture as well. I see that if one looks deeply, there are people of my culture who don’t have the same view regarding “elders” just as there people of the western world who highly regard their elders. With regard to how elders are treated, the perception of the world from the way I viewed it became very narrow.  That is why I needed to go out of my bubble to see the differences and similarities within each culture and how these relate to values and behaviors.  In the reading (Stewart, Danielian, & Foster, 1998) I learned “a frequent objection made to efforts to analyze any culture is that people differ from one another in many ways, even within a culture, and any attempt to describe a people according to broad generalizations, such as cultural characteristics, results in a stereotype” (158). 
            In conclusion I have learned that regarding culture and people in general there’s more to it than the eye can see. We should reflect upon our own behavior and values, so that we won’t be negatively blinded by the narrow views to which we hold so tightly.  By seeing that, at the end of the day, no one person’s view is necessarily better than another’s.  The key to solving many issues that plague us internally and externally is to try to understand others. This will benefit you individually, as well as your community.

Stewart, E. C., Danielian, J. & Foster, R. J. (1998).  Cultural assumptions and values. In M. J. Bennett (Ed.), Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Selected readings. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, pp. 157 – 172.