Q & A: Cultural Sensitivity

We received a question recently about whether or not industry professionals should be working from cultural sensitivity charts. The question was: Would it be harmful if we worked directly from the charts?

Yes, it would be harmful to simply work from the charts because every individual is unique and holds a unique set of values that may or may not be reflected in the chart. I believe it best to ask each family, culture or patient that we meet, what his or her specific needs are for caregiving. We should always ask how we could best serve them in the most dignified and respectful way possible.

One major flaw with the charts is that they do not highlight variances and differences that exist within the culture or religion. For instance, I’ve known some Mormons who will not take caffeine in any form, others that will drink caffeinated soda but not coffee or tea, some that will accept only caffeine that is already present in foods (like chocolate), and others that drink coffee. So if the chart were to generally say, ‘caffeine not okay’ for that religion, that would be only slightly accurate and would not fit all of the variations listed above.

Just last year, the cremation of Jewish singer Amy Winehouse fueled many discussions, news articles and blog posts about the changing Jewish values. On CNN, one blog post was titled “Winehouse burial raises Jewish questions about tattoos, cremation”. On E! Online, their news article asked “Did Amy Winehouse's Funeral Violate Jewish Law?” Where Orthodox Jews practice only earth burial within 24 hours in a wooden casket with no metal fixtures, some reform Jews allow cremation. Therefore, we can never rely upon one simple answer to each culture or religion.

Basically, the cultural sensitivity charts are best used as a guideline to understanding what some people within that specific culture or religion adhere to. It is by no means an absolute guide to understanding all the people that affiliate with that culture or religion.