In working towards cultural proficiency, one should:
- recognize his or her own personal, culturally learned assumptions or biases. One’s comprehension or perception of reality is filtered through these biases. Identifying them is the first step toward managing them.
- increase knowledge about particular cultures. When one has identified one’s own cultural biases, the need for increasing the knowledge about that culture becomes self-evident. This includes identifying stereotypes, whether positive or negative. Research other cultures. Magazines and newspapers targeted to particular communities can provide insight into that community, and there is much information on the internet and in library resources.
- increase interaction with different cultures. Facilitate a dialogue with friends from other cultures in which cultural information is flowing both ways. When appropriate, one might participate in cultural traditions that are not one’s own.
- be open with those from other cultures and initiate conversation about issues related to those cultures; in addition, be honest about issues related to the one’s own culture. Try to appreciate the difficulty of sharing such beliefs and experiences with others and remember to listen without becoming defensive.
- take on the task of learning a language native to another culture, if appropriate.
- learn about values characteristic of other cultures. For instance, the rights of the individual are held above all else in many Western cultures, whereas in many Eastern cultures the family or community is held above the rights of the individual. Understanding this value system will help one to understand how others might go about setting goals and making decisions. However, it is important not to stereotype — even if the stereotype seems to be a “positive” one.
An example of differences in cultures:
Western Individualist Society tends toward:
• People live in nuclear or one-parent families
• “Others” are classified as individuals
• Children are supposed to take care of themselves as soon as possible
• Weak family ties, rare contacts (as compared to Collectivist societies)
• More divorces
• Child learns to think in terms of “I”
• family vs. nonfamily distinction is irrelevant
• Aged relatives care for themselves
• Choosing not to have children in a marriage is socially acceptable
• Businesspersons live separately
• Privacy is normal
• Personal opinions expected
• Speaking one’s mind is characteristic of an honest person
• Lasting friendships are difficult to achieve
So how do Middle Eastern Collectivist Societies compare to Individualist Societies? Many Asian cultures share similar general characteristics with the list below:
• People live with close relatives
• “Others” are classified as in-group or out-group
• Family provides protection in exchange for lifelong loyalty
• Strong family ties, frequent contacts
• Fewer divorces
• Children learn to think in terms of “we”
• Nonfamily, unrelated persons can be adopted into the family
• Care for the aged in the family environment, as a family
• A marriage without children is not complete
• Businesspersons live with parents
• Nobody is ever alone
• Opinions predetermined by the in-group
• Harmony should always be maintained
• Family relationships can be oppressive