Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cultural Empathy

Cultural Empathy. Its an interesting idea, if one understands it. Here is a meaning for what a culture is:

Culture is defined by Pedersen (1991) as learned perspectives that are unique to a particular culture and common ground universals that are shared across different groups (p. 6). Thus culture is a tool that defines reality for those who belong to the culture. Within this reality or worldview, the individual's purpose in life is defined, and properly sanctioned behavior within the group is prescribed. The beliefs, values, and behaviors of a culture (its norms) provide its members with some degree of personal and social meaning for human existence and are learned through tradition and transmitted from generation to generation (Kagawa-Singer & Chung, 1994). Culture serves two functions: (a) integrative--the beliefs and values that provide individuals with a sense of identity and (b) functional--the rules for behavior that enable the group to survive physically and provide for its welfare while supporting an individual's sense of self-worth and belonging.

To boil all of that down, culture is the shared/collective reality of a singular group of people, which gives us identity and the ability to not only survive, but also to thrive in this world. Make sense?

Cultural Empathy then, is the ability of a person outside of a singular culture's ability to understand, through empathy, their ways, traditions, beliefs, and the general way their culture works without the influence of our own biases and prejudices clouding our judgment.

This idea moves beyond simple tolerance of others and their beliefs. It is engrossing and rich in depth. You become, almost literally, immersed in the other culture, in order to find understanding at the deepest levels. It draws you closer not only to the culture itself, but also the people within it. It allows the empathic gift to flow unbound and unhindered by our own way of life, which might vastly differ from the one you are attempting to grasp.

Why is Cultural Empathy important? This is a country full of immigrants who not only embrace our way of life, but also cling to their own ways. Understanding these things in depth will allow you to connect with anyone on a deeper and more fulfilling level, despite race, religion or culture. It makes interaction with others easier, as well, despite any differences that might seem a hindrance.

In developing and integrating a working relationship of your gifts into your life, this is a particularly important piece of the puzzle to think about. Because empathy does not end when someone is a different race or a different religion. It merely expands to encompass any and all, in its purest form. And that is what you are working toward.

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