Cultural Self- Assessment
I. Introduction: Introduce my cultural background
This assignment has truly opened my eyes as I have pondered over my personal experiences and my own perceptions of the world and people around me. To begin before I dive into exploring my prejudice, my bias and my steps to overcome it, I will first discuss my own cultural background to set the stage for the rest of the paper.
I am a white middle class male. In terms of race, socioeconomic class, and gender I am in the majority here in Utah. To add to my being in the majority I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the predominant faith in Utah, especially Utah Valley. On top of my race, gender and social status, I’m speak only English and I’m from a pretty affluent community that is known for being snobby and stuck up- Draper, Utah. On top of all of that, I graduated high school, attend an accredited university and I’m currently employed at a high wage in an internship with practical work experience that is offering me learning opportunities to develop in my future field of study, Human Resource Management. Ultimately, in my circumstances that were allotted to me in life, I rarely came into contact with those who were different than me growing up. I hardly ever had to think to myself how to act around others because they were all the same to me. Growing up most of my friends were white, with one exception of a good friend of mine who is black. But other than that, my friends were white, Mormon and around the same economic status.
I did have an opportunity to serve and LDS mission in New England which is a relatively white society for the most part. I did have an opportunity to serve in an area where I taught and served African refugees and that is what started my journey to become a more intercultural competent person.
II. Ideas about Cultural Groups Different from Your Own
For this next section the two different cultural groups that I chose are gender and socioeconomic classes, specially those who are transgender and lower class individuals will be who I am focusing on this section.
Over my life I have learned various things about these two groups in society. I will start with those in the lower economic class as I learned more about them earlier on in my life. When I was growing up my family was never wealthy by any means. My Dad had a livable wage as a construction project manager but we never had a lot. I was never part of a family that was on food stamps, that worried about paying rent, that was torn apart by financial distress and I always had a place to sleep with a blanket and a pillow and a bed. I was taught as a child to always be grateful for what I had and that there were people in this world who did not have food or shelter. Though I was told these things I never comprehended what my parents and older siblings meant by it. I never actually saw what poverty looked like. That was really the extent to my learning of those who lived in the lower class of society.
As to the other cultural group, transgender individuals, I did not start to learn about them until I was older and into my young teen years. I heard about transgender people mostly through the media in super liberal places like San Francisco and New York. I had never actually met one until I served an LDS mission and I taught a transgender man, who identified as a woman. Before my experience on my mission teaching this man I was very unfamiliar towards this group and frankly prejudice. As I reflect on my life I have realized that I was so judgmental towards this group, I still have repercussions of it in my life and I am trying to overcome that bias still today.
Regarding the level of intelligence, I don’t believe that in actual reality there was a huge gap between me and these other cultures, but I perceived that there was a huge one between me and those who were more poor, but not necessarily those who are transgender. I will start first with my experience and perceptions of those who are homeless. I feel like that when I was growing up, I judged those who were poor. I know that I had an absolute phobia of homeless people and frankly am still trying to get over it. I thought that those families and people who were poor were there because they had not worked hard enough, or they were not smart of enough. I perceived that those who were in a lower social class than me were not as intelligent because they could not read as fast as me or they could not do other homework assignments as well as me. Those people probably did not have books to read at home and probably did not have parents to help them with their homework, because their parents were probably working.
I never viewed transgender people less intelligent than my own cultural group, though I am sure that if the transgender person was of a lower social class I would have thought that they were not as intelligent as my working white class group.
I viewed these people differently when I was growing up with regards to their value systems, though as I have matured and grew older, I have realized that these two groups do not differ as much as I thought they did with their values, for the most part.
When I was young I viewed the lower social class as people who did not have the value system that I did with being kind and loving others. For whatever reason I was afraid/intimidated by poor people because I thought they would be mean to me. It is embarrassing to share that but it is what it is. I did not feel like my values and beliefs were similar to those who were poor. However, going on mission drastically changed that. I was around poor people for the majority of my mission. I hugged several poor, homeless and impoverished people. I talked with them. I got to know them. I have come realize that the people of the lower social class are in most cases extremely kind, civil and charitable. I came to find out that they shared my same values usually on most topics, including the basic values of my Christian faith.
Transgender people were, and still can be, harder for me to relate to with my values. I felt for a long time that I would never really understand them. That is mostly because I had never in my life interacted with someone who was transgender. On my mission when I met my Transgender friend my paradigm of transgender people shifted. We got to know each other on a much deeper spiritual level than I had ever anticipated and I found that this transgender friend of mine was actually in agreement with almost everything that we taught as missionaries, not just our Christian tenets of being loving and kind but also our specific church doctrines. I was honestly very surprised. I gained a lot of respect for transgender people since that interaction.
My perception of these two cultural groups’ behavior was bolstered by the media and others around me when I was a child- which is probably why I thought they had different values than me.
Those in the lower class typically from my perspective of occasional interaction with them at school and sports showed me that they sometimes were more disruptive and less disciplined. However, something else that would hint towards how I thought about the lower social class was when I found out that a specific person in my grade in middle school, who was very rude and disrespectful, was actually from a rich family when I assumed that because of his behavior he would have been from a family of a lower social class. Fortunately, over the years I have come to disconnect people’s behavior with their social class as I have realized that bad behavior is not always caused by lower social class.
In regards to transgender behavior, I had never seen a transgender in person until my mission and so I really did know their typical behavior. When I met my transgender friend on my mission I came to learn that their behavior was nothing out of the ordinary from any other civilized person. From that experience I came to not transgender people as much due to their behavior.
In a broad scope of things, those who were a lower social class than me and those who are transgender have definitely been in my worldview. However, their position in my world has changed over the years. I would definitely say when I was younger I was a lot less aware of my bias than I am today and so I am sure that my paradigm of these two cultural groups was much more hostile and not as respectful. I would have never hurt them by any means but I will be bold to say that I hurt them by the things I thought of them, which ultimately is no exception to how they should be treated or thought about.
When I was younger my parents definitely were the type of parents who told me that everyone should be treated with respect and my parents did walk the talk. I have never seen two people more loving and forgiving in my whole life. My Dad is particularly kind to those in the lower social class. We have never had a serious friendship with anyone in the lower social class but I never heard my Dad talk negatively to or about them. He was always kind. He was kind to them because his family was poor. He came from a lower social class. As did my Mom. My Dad was fortunate to have the right opportunities open up as well as working his butt of to get to where he is today.
With regards to transgender, I never was taught to hate these people, but I also was never taught to love them. My family never really talked about the LGBTQIA community and so my paradigm of that cultural group was never shaped by my parents.
III. Sources of Cultural Knowledge and Input
In my life there were several sources that I had that helped me gain my cultural knowledge and helped me grow in regards to my relationships with other human beings. I will briefly touch on each individual or group and how it influenced my knowledge of the low social class, transgender and other cultures in general.
Parents as teachers. As I have already discussed, my parents were instrumental in instilling in me the basic Christian ethics and values that ultimately have shaped my life experience in how I treat others. Those values are loving your neighbor, the golden rule, but also loving those who hate you, praying for those who despitefully use you and going the extra mile with someone if they ask you to go with them.
Neighbors as teachers. I had great neighbors growing up with amazing life experiences. In particular, I had neighbors growing up who would go on humanitarian trips often to Vietnam and they would tell me about their experiences which influenced me to think about others cultures in a new light and become more aware at how much privilege I have had in my life.
Teachers as teachers. When I went through high school I had two teachers that made an enormous impact on me. Mrs. Ferguson, my junior year honors English teacher and Ms. Hughes my AP Art history teacher. Both of these individuals like I said did amazing things for me in my life and helped me see the importance of embracing others of other cultures and other beliefs. Though it is not directly related to transgender or socioeconomic classes, Ms. Hughes helped me learn a lot more about Islam and as a result I totally changed my paradigm towards the people of the middle east entirely.
People I met on my mission as teachers. This group was perhaps the most influential in my development in becoming a more intercultural competent person. On my mission I served in an African refugee camp where I not only taught the gospel of Jesus Christ to these people but I also had the opportunity to develop lifelong friendships with these people who taught me a lot about how to see the world. On my mission I also taught a lot of people who were extremely poor. I taught people who lived in houses (if you wish to call them that) that were barely in livable conditions. My eyes were totally opened to the lower social class and I had a greater appreciation for inherited privilege in my life and gained a greater desire to create more equity in my sphere of influence in the world. Finally, on my mission I gained a friendship with a transgender individual who really shaped my paradigm of this specific cultural group. Before I thought transgender people were bad people. I was prejudice towards them. After that meeting my friend, I started to become less prejudice and more empathetic.
The Media as a teacher. I would say that the media has construed my paradigm of those in the lower class economically and those who are transgender. At first I feel like the media made fun of these two groups, and because of this, I made fun of these two groups. However, the media has now totally shifted to support those who are transgender and there is activist who openly defend this group. However, it seems to me that the media has not really changed in relation to those in the lower class—which is odd to me. For some reason it seems like there are a lot more polarized people in our society and culture who advocate for transgender people, but there are not nearly as many people who advocate for the lower socioeconomic classes. Overall, the media has shaped my paradigm of the transgender community very much so. It has made it worse and it has made it better. Without the media helping me to understand these individuals, I would most likely still be more biased than I am now. At the same time however, the media still is in my perspective, negatively impacting my paradigm of how I view those in the lower socioeconomic classes.
This class has by far been the most influential teacher to me regarding intercultural communication, besides my mission (where I experienced the refugee camp for 6 months). This class has taught me that I need to rid myself of all of my bias and my prejudice and listen more empathetically. This class has created a sense of urgency for me to be more competent in communicating with other cultures as this is a key skill that will not only enable my future personal relationships, but also my relationships in business and in the community with be improved as a result of taking this class.
Regarding what questions I would like to have answered in this class for the rest of the semester would be the following: “How do I really create a rich relationship with someone who has opposing values to me regarding my religious beliefs?”, “What are 2-3 practical strategies we can use to ensure that privilege does not occur in the work place, or at least, so it does not inhibit others growth?”, “How do you minimize the bias that you have towards others? (How do you limit yourself from living your life always judging others unfairly?)” The reason why I chose those three questions is because I want to not only know that I need to change, but I want to know HOW to change my behavior and ultimately my nature and innermost feelings towards these human beings that I share such an important connection with, we are all part of the human family trying to have the best human experience possible. So I think it is fair that we cut each other some slack—the problem is, I don’t know how to do it yet with the results I want. So that is why I chose those questions.