Bringing Balance to our Kaleidoscopes
Cultural diversity and cultural barriers are hot topics. Growing up I didn't have an appreciation for this. I went to a school where many ethnic backgrounds were represented, but it was never an issue. I don't ever recall feeling differently about someone because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity.
Then I moved to South Carolina. WOW. The black/white gap was as wide as the north/south chasm. When a patient found out I was a Yankee setting down roots on his beloved Southern soil, he blocked his tracheostomy to curse at me. Don't ever let anyone tell you the Civil War only lasted four years...it is alive and well!
I would have thought I just lived a sheltered life, but I had a good black friend who had moved to Charleston from Nebraska and it was culture shock for him, too. There is no denying that there are cultural differences, but sometimes those differences are not due to our ethnicity so much as the geography and history of our upbringing. We can't assume that every person of the same color will respond similarly.
Cultural awareness training can be beneficial, but not if you take what you have learned about a particular ethnic background and apply it to everyone of that race. We are more complex than just the color of our skin.
To bring balance to the kaleidoscope that is our world, we must integrate cultural knowledge into the bigger picture. It is unrealistic that one person will ever know all of the customs of this vast planet. With the internet and international travel, we will likely come into contact with far more cultures than we could ever learn about. So what can we do?
Determine to treat everyone with dignity and respect without prejudging them. This one sounds deceptively simple. Take a few minutes this week to consider some of the stereotypes you hold...pay attention to your initial responses in situations and ask yourself why you respond that way.
Utilize colleagues. Ask co-workers if they are aware of any cultural differences that could impact client relations. As a speech therapist verbalized frustration with a mother over her lack of follow through with the child's home program, another health professional intervened. She explained that the family's Hispanic cultural beliefs were interfering with how the speech therapist was trying to accomplish her goals. When the therapist revised the methods used, the patient was able to make forward progress that had been thwarted up to that point.
Be sensitive to others in our interactions, looking for cues that they are uncomfortable or have been offended. Then allow yourself to be vulnerable through asking questions like, "Is there something I am doing that is making you uncomfortable?"