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CULTURAL ISSUES in four texts
Cultural issues usually surface in a multicultural society like that of America's because co-existence of people from various different ethnic backgrounds can lead to undesired and unexpected conflicts. But these issues have also become important for those not living in a multicultural society because of the fact that world is rapidly turning into a global village. The closer the people of the world come, the more cultural issues they are likely to encounter. For this reason, it is important to study the reasons why cultural clashes take place and find out how cultural differences affect our perceptions. The authors of the texts chosen for this paper have skillfully and appropriately highlighted these issues.
Though the stories presented in these sources differ still the one thing that connects them to each other is the fact that they all revolve around cultural clashes resulting from racial, ethnic and generation differences. Malidoma Patrice Some's in his book titled, 'The Healing Wisdom of Africa highlights the cultural differences that exist between African tribes and American society. He believes that certain African rituals and ceremonies help create a sense of community and allow people to connect with their soul. This is something missing from American society where people fear loss of individuality and thus are unable to truly understand the importance of a community. The book basically presents author's views on the starvation of Western souls, which results from lack of rituals, traditions, customs and old family and social values.
Malidoma Patrice Some writes:
Many modern people believe that community absorbs the dignity and integrity of the individual and threatens to kill the much-cherished sense of self. The truth is that one doesn't lose one's self as a result of being part of a community. On the contrary, being in community leads to a healthy sense of belonging, greater generosity, better distribution of resources, and a greater awareness of the needs of the self and the other." (91-92)
Similarly in the book, 'The Spirit Catches you and you fall down' by the editor of the 'American Scholar', Anne Fadiman, the author has focused on the challenges faced by immigrants residing in America. It is an extraordinary piece of writing in which various issues have been woven together in the style of investigative journalism. The story revolves around issues of cross-cultural medical practices and miscommunication that often leads to tragic circumstances. This book may not be very unique as far as story is concerned but the way clash of cultural values has been highlighted is not something that we get to see very often in investigative accounts of tragic events. The author has carefully illustrated the story of a family torn between immigration problems, communication barriers and epilepsy. While on the surface it may appear to be a tale of a refugee family from Laos and medical community in the United States but when we delve deeper into the book, we notice that the story has many different shades, all connected with one primary color. The most feature of the book is skillful illustration of cross-cultural barriers and problems faced by immigrants in America.
It is important to understand that the author has tried to maintain an objective stance on the subject throughout the book and thus has allowed the readers to form their own opinions and reach their own individual conclusions. But there are moments when one simply cannot stay objective and feels like favoring one of the two parties. Most readers would probably side with the Hmong family but if we carefully study the role being played by the medical community in this book, we would know just how unfair and unjust it is to accuse them of causing the tragedy. The Hmong family has a young girl named Lia Lee who is suffering from epileptic seizures since the time she was only 3 three years old, but the family doesn't agree with the doctors as far as the true nature of the illness and its causes are concerned. This is where the actual problem lies as the two parties insist on administering the treatment that they deem fit for the child. This miscommunication and language barrier leads to a tragedy in which the child ultimately is pronounced brain dead.
The story is all about clash of two cultures and their values and the problems which surface during each side's struggle to stay on the path that they have followed all their lives. In this unique tale, we notice that the author has primarily focused on immigration problems, which have been carefully highlighted amid all the confusion and chaos surrounding the illness of Lia Lee.
At one occasion in the first Chapter, the author has clearly mentioned the primary reason behind the differences that later led to the tragic circumstances. Fadiman says that for Hmong people the cause of any illness was primarily connected with 'soul-loss'. The author shows that the two parties, i.e. The scientifically-driven rationalistic medical community and the spiritually-oriented harmless Hmong family did not agree on the causes of the illness because while the former was interested only in the bodily changes and reactions, the latter focused entirely on the soul of the patient. Fadiman writes:
Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness and healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while the medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness qaug dab peg -- the spirit catches you and you fall down -- and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices." (11-12)
In Remember the Titans, we come across a cultural issue we have become quite familiar with. The story is unique because it focuses on the integration problems in Alexandria, Virginia where three schools merged in 1971. With integration of two black and one white school, several race-related cultural problems surface which are ultimately resolved with the help of Coach Herman Boone. It is a true story full of inspirational incidents and views showing that racial problems can be surmounted if some wise people can inspire others to adopt a color-blind attitude for the general good of the community. The issues highlighted in this movie along with those in other sources are very real and ones that surface in a country as culturally diverse as ours. T.C Williams was not just one school, it was in fact representative of the entire American society where blacks were aiming for integration and encountered some severe problems as a result. But with the help of some dynamic heroic souls, the school turned into an integration success story, much to the envy of the rest of the country.
While reading these texts and watching this exceptional movie, one wonders if cultural clashes arise only because of racial and ethnic differences. Stanley Grenz has an answer. He believes that world also encounters cultural problems as it progresses and enters new technologically and industrially advanced times. This means that when philosophy, art, literature, television and almost everything else changes and incorporates new values, theology and religious doctrines may clash with the new world views.
Stanley Grenz essentially talks from a postmodern perspective but it appears he is unable to advocate or advance the views presented by this age. As he writes, "Postmoderns denounce the pretense of those who claim to view the world from a transcendent vantage point from which they are able to speak imperiously to and on behalf of all humankind" (38).
This shows that though Stanley Grenz believes in the integration of old and new views in other areas, he doesn't advocate the same for theology and religious beliefs. he feels that, "we simply cannot allow Christianity to be relegated to the status of one more faith among others." This is one reason why it appears that while Grenz understands the problems being encountered by Christians today, still he feels postmodernism cannot offer a permanent solution to these problems. While he has done a great job in highlighting the cultural issues from postmodern perspective, he still doesn't believe in the integration of religion and science or Christianity with other religions of the world. Grenz maintains that postmodern mind perceives knowledge differently and thus questions the inherent goodness of old traditional or religious beliefs. He writes:
In the postmodern world, people are no longer convinced that knowledge is inherently good. In eschewing the Enlightenment myth of inevitable progress, postmodernism replaces the optimism of the last century with a gnawing pessimism. Gone is the belief that every day, in every way, we are getting better and better. Members of the emerging generation are no longer confident that humanity will be able to solve…[continue]
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