August 26, 2013
Today, I will be talking about how my personal experience has led me to understand the ethical standards by the National Association of Social Workers and how I am currently applying and developing my cultural competence and understanding of social diversity.
I have spent my entire life attempting to understand culture and its function in human behavior and society. As a daughter from a family of immigrants to the United States, I was born into a social position that would contribute to shaping my experience in the world. I was born as a woman and I also don’t conform to traditional gender roles. I grew up near Chicago and during my teenage years, I lived in Mexico for three years. These facets of my identity and the complicated responses I have received from society have led me to continually analyze culture. In 2010, I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Latin American Studies and Ethnic Studies.
There is a core lesson I have learned about understanding culture and it is interestingly enough, also a social work ethical principle and that is respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person.
If value guides attempts to understand people in the world, then cultures can much more successfully be understood because it allows one to step outside of oneself, it is a sufficiently good reason to at least temporarily suspend egotistical judgments, biases, and preconceptions (which are inherently), in order to truly grasp the essence of why and how people behave the way they do.
Aside from using my knowledge to understand myself, as a Social Worker, I now use it to serve others and help them understand their environment and themselves to make choices that may enrich their lives. Understanding my master statuses helps me learn what my role is in a greater scheme and to do this I need to become evermore competent in understanding oppression, a value that enables Social Workers to aid their clientele in furthering social justice.
I believe we all have responsibility towards one another in the world, and the world demands the most responsibility from those who benefit at the expense of others. Our world is increasingly interdependent and a significant amount of suffering in the world is due to inequality and that inequality stems from an inability for us to understand one another. For these reasons, respecting the dignity and self worth of others as well as developing cultural competence and understanding social diversity is of utmost importance.
Earlier I mentioned that by stepping outside of oneself, one could understand cultures better. I love to travel because by learning about the way people live that are most different to me and the lifestyles I understand, the more I am able to understand myself. And vice versa, the more I learn about myself the more I am able to learn about others.
When a Social Worker has the opportunity to work with anyone, including people from different cultures, we are asked to commit ourselves to that person despite our personal agenda, criteria, and ideas of what they should do or how they should be. This is no small task. It is truly humbling. We are asked to approach our profession with the sufficient self awareness to detach from that illusory sense of self.
I am currently in India on a two month trip. Daily, I am severely challenged to detach from my American egocentrism and privileges; from my ideas about the way things “should be”, my unhappiness when I am not in a position that meets my comfort, and my constant questioning of people and their behavior. I realize this malaise is created in my mind by my ego, not by the geographical location in which I find myself or by the people who surround me who seem perfectly content in their environment. To overcome culture shock, I need not simply return to the United States. Rather, I need to reach a point where I can accept and respect the inherent dignity, self worth and self determination of those around me, and to suspend my judgments of myself, others as well as my opinion of how things should be. And then to thrive within the same environment that currently perceptually challenges my ability to function. If I can transcend my illusory sense of “self”, I can transcend India or any place in the world and I can help others do the same.