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.  


  1. “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.” –Halimo
    What a great idea to reflect on. As I read your blog it challenged me to take a deep self-assessment of the way I look at my own culture. Am I ethnocentric? We all would like to assume we aren’t but you know what they say about assuming. I think in a small way we are all ethnocentric to a degree because we only have our own culture and our ideas of our culture to work with. It’s whether you choose to take a second look at your opinions and beliefs about your own or another culture that challenges ethnocentrism. No culture is “better” then another. No culture “has it right”. We are all separate and beautiful in our own right. Cultures shouldn’t be held up to each other to be judged, but should be looked at as individual and appreciated as such. Cultures are made up of individual people with individual back stories. To look at a culture and generalize would be to discredit the people as individuals. I know that I don’t fit all western characteristics.

  2. Halima Adan, Thank you for sharing your story. I believe your culture is similiar to my Hmong culture too because the younger generation have to take care of the elder just like when the elder baby-sit the younger generation as a child. Hmong families don't want to separate from each other becausebfamily are the first to comfort and support one another. I know that growing up in two different culture is difficult because you have to decide if you want to change your personality when you go out in public. I have lived in two different culture that I have to adapt and fit in with both. Well, I really like your articles and thank you again for sharing your great story with us.
    Chxong Xiong SWK280

  3. Halima, this entry was really intriguing to me because it is completely different from the culture I grew up with. It is interesting to hear about another culture that has different views than mine does because it is a learning point. Also I can now have a more open look on different cultures and have a better understanding of why some people my think differently than I do. It all comes down to we all have different cultures and being brought up differently. What seems to be difficult for most people is to remember that different doesn't mean better or worse.

    This entry gave me a lot to think about myself and those I surround myself with.

    Mikaela Zierden

  4. The first thing I noticed in your blog was the relationship between your culture and Hmong culture. The elders are highly respected and are not to be messed with. You also have a great sense of family in both cultures which I totally respect. I'm glad that you are out of your bubble sometimes and leave your tunnel vision behind and widen your scope on life. There are many things to experience in this life time and being tunnel visioned is not a way to have a great experience. Just do not lose sight of your roots and you will be fine. You create your own path and the adventure is the best part. Thanks for the blog Halimo.

  5. Hi Halima,

    I am really pleased with this blog. It gives the reader an insight of your experience as a Somali immigrant living in the United States. You have formulated your biases in a unique and beautiful manner. Being a Somali woman I also share the same insights as yours. I too, was amazed of the idea of nursing homes when I first began to understand what their purpose was. As a Somali immigrant this concept was foreign to me however, I began to learn that every culture has their own ways of doing things. I realized that there is no right or wrong way it's just a matter of what is important in that culture. Again I want to thank you for painting a picture of your experience.

    Halima Abdulkarim

  6. Halima,
    I think we can all connect to having the false belief that our beliefs and values
    are better than others. I grew up in a very liberal democratic family I remember not
    understanding hy someone would choose to be a republican especially a conservative
    republican. I attened a very liberal school fro middleschool and I remember one of my
    friends telling me that one of the girls in our class was a republican. This was so shocking
    to me I could not understand it, and I did not want to be her friend because of it. I agree
    with you that we can not let our own beliefs and values blind us from understanding other
    peoples beliefs and values.

    Zora Rabb