Taking a Cultural Plunge

The bisexual pride flag.
The bisexual pride flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For my final assignment in my Cultural Diversity class, I had to take a cultural plunge. This required me to learn about a culture that is very different than mine. The cultural plunge is designed to help you learn about a group of people you know little about and to help lessen anxiety. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to be around people you are not familiar with. This can happen with whole groups of people. For example, growing up in a homogeneous environment can make you feel uncomfortable when you have to move into a diverse environment. You may not know how to act or you may have misconceptions about other cultures. A cultural plunge forces you to adjust to a new environment and confront prejudices you may have. It’s a great way to learn about people.

My choice for the assignment was to explore bisexuality. I’m including the link to download the power point presentation:

Cultural Plunge Presentation

It was fascinating to learn about bisexuality and pan-sexuality. I really enjoyed my Cultural Diversity class as it is a reminder that we cannot trust our assumptions of a culture based on one or two people. Meaning that culture is diverse even within one group of people. We tend to make generalizations about people based on our experiences in the past. The example I use in the presentation is assuming that feminists hate men based on dealings with women claiming to be feminists. It’s not fair to paint a group of people as all the same based on meeting a few people who claim to belong to that group. This happens sometimes when tourists travel oversees. When you travel over sees, you tend to be an ambassador for your country, even though you don’t represent everyone in your country!

I really feel that the categorization and classification that our brains use to remember information does not work with people. Racism and prejudice is built on these processes. I think it’s important for us to try and resist the judgments and assumptions that we have when we meet new people. We are bound to make them, but if we question them each time we make them, we begin to train our brains to put less credibility on these judgement. Plus, this allows us to change our perspective if we find that we have made a wrong assumption.

 

Prejudice

I am struck by how powerful negative messages can be when they appease entitlement or false beliefs. Just thinking about the concept of believing in a superior religion, sex, or ethnicity feels strange to me. Biology and genetics have been used to try to prove a superior type of human, namely the white man. One can say this is out of ignorance, but there must be more to it. When Europeans first discovered the African content, they saw the native Africans as  inferior.

Religion, philosophy, and science have been twisted by man throughout history. This is why I believe it is important to be a skeptic. Even so, skepticism is not fool-proof. After reading Even the Rat Was White: A historical View of Psychology, by Robert V. Guthrie, I learned that even psychology has a racist past. Science is not protected from false ideology or false belief. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose. I learned a lot from the book about where psychology started, an account that you do not usually find in the typical psychology textbook. In part this is because we don’t like to remember the negative experiences of the past.

I feel that the most important message from the book is that diversity is crucial to a healthy society. Now, this is not literally stated, but the book shows how science was stymied from racist assumptions. The attempt of a  lot of white scientists to “prove” the inferiority of African-Americans is likely based on their homogenous upbringing. I would hope that most people today would be appalled at such a notion as one race being inferior. When a person grows up in a homogenous environment, they can form judgements or beliefs that are inaccurate or false. That is why I think diversity is so important and why I am happy to see the U.S. population changing in a more diverse direction. Hopefully that will lead to a more diverse representation in government and the private sector.

Racism, homophobia, and sexism still exist in the U.S. and the world. However, diversity presents us with an opportunity to reduce prejudice. I think that part of why racism was so strong in this country was due to old beliefs based on white superiority. It was also supported by beliefs about heredity being stronger than environment and that European white heredity was superior to other ethnicities. The history of science is not pretty, but that is due to white men who twisted science to fit their own beliefs. Thanks to the effort of African-American men and women, psychology made an important shift away from racist beliefs. You should really read Even the Rate Was White if you want to learn more about the contribution of African-Americans to psychology.

I believe humans to be naturally progressive. Most of us want to grow and improve ourselves. While some do not like societal change, we really don’t have that choice. Society shifts and changes naturally. We can change and improve society through progressive values. What was so inspiring to me about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was his inclusive language. He wanted everyone to come together and fight against injustice. After all, equality is ingrained in the constitution of the United States, even if back then it meant equality for white men and no one else. We can decide to interpret the constitution as proclaiming equality to all people no matter who we are.

We cannot help who we are or who we love. More and more people, specifically of the younger generations, believe this. That is the hope we have to eliminate prejudice. While it may take time, I believe it is possible to live in a world without prejudice and discrimination.

Studying Social Behavior

A photograph of a hand-written, student-genera...
A photograph of a hand-written, student-generated definition of Social psychology. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Social psychology is sometimes confused with sociology. Like the photo above states, social psychology is essentially the study of social influences. That includes behavior in the social setting, but also how groups influence the individual. How do other people affect our thoughts and feelings? Social psychology tries to answer that. Sociology is the study of groups of people. Sociologists work with demographics and study societies and communities. I’ve just finished my class: Principles of Social Psychology, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I’ve done a lot of research for this class. I’ve written about bullying, racism, prejudice, feminism, depression, identity, among other topics. One thing that really comes out after studying social psychology is just how important other people are to our own development. In the United States, we like to focus on individuality and being responsible to one’s self. It is common to hear about how well successful people worked hard, studied, and paved their own way in society. We are instilled with this sense of being on our own. Sometimes we forget that it’s ok to ask for help from time to time!

We are not alone, however, and there is nothing wrong with getting help along the way. Part of living in a society includes a level of commitment to each other. Even if you feel like that commitment is forced, on some level, we all need people as we are social creatures. I personally spend a lot of time alone, but I do have friends and family that I communicate with. Introverts have social needs too!

Studying social psychology has reminded me again how much power we give to other people. We take to heart what people say about us, which can become dangerous if we stop listening to ourselves. Case in point, when I was bullied back in elementary school, it was difficult to ignore the things the kids said to me. I seemed to handle myself alright, but eventually I began to accept the negative things they said about me. I had a set of expectations about life that as long as they held true, I was fine, but once those expectations were violated things changed. It’s probably common that kids have an idealized view of life that can become invalidated once they grow up into adults. It’s not fun learning that your beliefs about life were wrong!

Anyway, to stick with my main point, we rely on other people. There’s no avoiding it. Unfortunately some people rely too much on other people’s opinions. Part of developing a healthy identity requires us to look deep within ourselves, you can call it self-exploration. If you let others tell you who you are, you risk developing a false identity. It’s difficult not to let others define who we are. Commercials try to tell us who we are by convincing us their products will make us better people or perhaps become the person we think we should be. Religion tries to tell us how to live with moral laws that at times can feel antiquated or outdated. Politicians also try to impose their beliefs on us by passing laws or at least attempting too! Heck even science may influence us, though it’s more suggestion than anything else.

I think the most important lesson we can learn from social psychology is that we should define ourselves based on our own thoughts, feelings, and instincts. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to what other people say about us, but we can’t put too much credibility into what they say all the time. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.