I am reading the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman for my nonfiction English class and it really has opened my eyes to other cultures.
I love learning about all cultures: what language they speak, what food they eat, where they live, what they wear etc., but I always focus on the good, positive aspects of their lives. I don’t think about the misfortunes and heartbreaks they go through: the wars, the governments, all the bad things. It’s not that I try to ignore them; it’s just that I focus on other things, blindly.
In Fadiman’s book, a Hmong family from Laos experiences American culture. The family moved to America and immediately was thrown into the medical system when their daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy-except they don’t know it because they didn’t speak the language. The book delves into the battle between listening to the American doctors who tolerate the Hmong family and the Hmong family struggling to know what to do for their daughter, who they believe is spiritually sick.
Each day the class debates what they think is the right thing for Lia, the young girl who is sick. It is sometimes hard to sit there because even though I love experiencing cultures and new things, I disagree with most of the class who sides with the Hmong family.
I believe strongly in the American culture-maybe because it is such a mix of cultures, maybe because it’s just the easy, comfortable thing to do. I don’t know. I feel for the family, but I don’t think they are doing what they should. It is hard for me to respect them when I think they are wrong, but isn’t that the definition of tolerance; Respecting someone who is different than you.
It was an eye opener, acknowledging the fact that I have trouble understanding and empathizing with others, but now that I do acknowledge the shameful fact, I want to try to change it. Whether you agree with someone or not is not important. But you should at least respect a person for their beliefs.