Whose Culture is more important-Theirs, Our – or Both?

Otto - Summeerfield, Florida
Entered on January 27, 2009

Over the pat several years I experienced an unexpected attitude change. Maybe change is the wrong word. Perhaps my attitude was expanded or maybe enlightened. Whatever, the change happened – quietly and unexpectedly.

It began several years ago when we moved to Hong Kong to work at an Interntional School. I soon realized that although the Asian adullts to whom Hong Kong was home worked well with the gweilos (non-Asians), the people of Hong Kong socially usually never crossed cultural lines. Hong Kong Asian youth likewise, socially almost never crossed cultural lines. This was not as true for those who attended Iinternational Schools.

It was here, in Hong Kong, that my change occurred. While in Hong Kong one of my major responsiblities was to assist and challenge the youth, their families and our staff to explore and solve persoanl problems. In order to be effective this meant that my becoming involved in their lives – a great responsibility.

While working, particularly with the youth, it dawned on me that my American perspective often wasn’t appropriate or useful when working with people of other cultures. I use the plural of cultures for it became clear that there were at least three different cultures impacting these students: 1. their parent’s culture; 2. the city of Hong Kong’s culture and 3. the internal culture of the International School which they attended.

It became clear to me that in order for students to deal with their personal problems they needed to recognize the impact each of these culturres had on them. In order to work through their problems it was vitalthat they had to accept their feelings and of course their thinking – from THEIR culture’s perspective – not from my American perspective.

A perhaps important aside, having persoanlly been immersed from infancy on in Americqn traditions, I “knew that America had all the answers for any problems we, its citizens, faced. and of course, America also had answers for the problems the rest of the world faced.

While working in this international setting and without realizing it, my thinking had been challenged and changed. Not only was I an American Citizen but now I was becoming a citizen of the world.

A major challenge for me as my awareness of becoming a citizen of the world grew was to challenge students to solve their problems from their own personal views of life. A powerful experience fo them and for me.

We, Americans, have not been taught to see situtions from another’s cultural perspectiver – although more of us are learning. Regretfully, some of our leaders still take their actions from “America is right” belief. This is not only non-productive but can be very destructive to other countries and thus, in turn, to America.

I do beleive that the longer we choose to feel our way is the only correct way, the more we alienate those with whom we wish to have as friends and also, if the wish, to help. What a powerful psychological weapon we give to those who detest us. These haters of America subtly encourage us to NOT understand how and why other people feel and think. Rather, our enemise incourage us to keep pushing our, “America knows what is right” view on others. I suspect that our enemies thank us for our trying to force our belief sysem on our “friends”.

With others, I believe America was founded not to be a bully in the world. I beleive that the world, including more Americans, feel that we must be held repsonsibler for our thoughts and actions and must act accordingly. This I firmly believe.

My experiences in Hong Kong taught me several important lessons, the most important is that this essay is not just about teens and their cultures in which they live but more importanly, how it applies to our thinking and our actions in the world.