Cultural Competence and the “Golden Rule”

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Picnic in the Badlands. Photo credit: Mary Price

Note: Two students in the Women’s Leadership Initiative traveled to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, a Lakota Indian Reservation, for a pilgrimage experience in June. This blog shares the experience of one student, Mary Price, now entering her third year in the WLI.

By Mary Price

June 29

I expected to be impacted by my visit to the Lakota Nation living at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. I expected to feel uncomfortable with the church mission group’s Vacation Bible School approach in the midst of historical trauma and poverty. I was not expecting to feel numb on the Friday after I got back. So I was glad to have solitude to do laundry, unpack, and get used to having all the luxuries of home. I began unpacking my emotions and insights, too.

Initially I felt like I had been a voyeur on the reservation and had served minimal good to fellow Americans who experience such social justice inequities. I began talking to my husband and close friends over the next few days and by Monday was exhausted with naming all the things I had done, seen, and felt. I noticed the rhythm of time on the reservation was event driven rather than scheduled. Being home magnified that difference. I was glad and relieved that I did not plan on going back to work that Monday. I started by transcribing my journal. But soon I felt overwhelmed by a yearning to be outside or with my close friends.

Reflection yielded insights. I recognized that I had enjoyed not being in charge of the trip and I had enjoyed being included in the community of a faith based team even if all our theology didn’t match. I found out that not having easy access to food or showers was uncomfortable, but I admitted to myself that I could make due with much less than I wanted. My daughter Stefanie has made four trips to Uganda. She asked me if/when I had cried after re-entering my world. It took me two days.

My mentor, Rev. Judi Hoffman, and I are both United Methodists. She had the idea to contact the United Methodist Conference Director of Native American and Indigenous People and introduce me so I could talk about current UMC programs for the Lakota people of Pine Ridge. I needed to know what other ways of interacting are possible. I don’t know why I want to know. It might be guilt or sorrow or curiosity. I don’t know. The chaplain at work asked me about my experience and listened to part of my processing. Both she and my mentor suggested that I have to live in the dissonance between my life and those on the reservation rather than rush to resolve it.

God, please hold me while I listen to You. I don’t do dissonance well.

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Women’s Leadership Initiative student, Mary Price

July 23

Weeks later, I don’t feel numb anymore. Matthew 25:35-40 instructs and encourages us to visit those in prison, to feed the hungry, to share water with the thirsty. My visit among those held captive by deeply systemized sources of injustice was not voyeurism simply because I was powerless to change their lives. My overall reaction to the mission-oriented format of my week at Pine Ridge made for disconnection from the native traditions and thus it became an unwitting form of colonization.

This cultural insensitivity is bred from “the golden rule” tradition (Luke 6:31). The popular understanding of the “golden rule” is to treat others as we would like to be treated. However, a more humble and considered reading takes the approach of treating others as they would like to be treated.[i] Like ministry, the nursing profession is also interested in culturally sensitive care. As one group of scholars puts it: “The success of culturally competent care often rests on the ability of providers to assess accurately and make appropriate adaptations to accommodate disparate patient circumstances.[ii] My takeaway is recognition that I need more ministry experience among diverse cultures to develop the skill of being present, being God centered, and being open to the traditions and faith of others. Insightful listening will enable me to participate rather than put my own understandings onto the situation uncritically.

God, thank you for those who hold me while I listen to You and walk this journey of learning and loving Your Name among diverse tongues. Amen.

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[i] Schim, S. M., A. Doorenbos, R. Benkert, and J. Miller. “Culturally Congruent Care: Putting the Puzzle Together.” Journal of Transcultural Nursing 18, no. 2 (2007): 103-10.

[ii] Ibid., 109.