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Consider the following conversation between a young college student (YCS) and the academic dean of a church-related liberal arts college (based on a true experience, but altered here slightly to maintain anonymity):

YCS: Dean, why did you devote your entire life to the church?

Dean: That’s a very good question, YCS. I wanted to serve God full time as a minister.

YCS: Oh. Did you always want to be a full-time minister?

Dean: No, I wanted to become an actor and go into the theater like my family.

YCS: Wow, an actor?

Dean: In our family, we were always playing different characters from theater, musicals, television programs, or books. We were constantly acting. We even held our own “Tony Awards.”

YCS: An actor. Isn’t that an extreme leap from the ministry?

Dean: Perhaps, but for me, life is an enormous opportunity to act. So, I minister full time and act when I’m confronted with the situations of life that are opposite my personal desires. I do what I have to do as a character, like from a play.

YCS: The YCS said nothing else but simply thought, “Gee, that’s strange.”

I am not a thespian, my family is not theatrical, and as of this writing, I have yet to see a Broadway production. Even so, I am completely fascinated with live theater. However, it is not an essential element of who I am. It is not my cultural experience. In the conversation you just read, theater is the cultural experience of the academic dean. The world of theater is intricately woven into the dean’s responses and view of the world. We could even surmise that it influences his values, beliefs, communications, and so much more about how he navigates through daily activities.

Unlike the dean, though, many of us are unaware of how cultural influences impact our own actions. This guidebook serves as an antidote to our tendency toward cultural myopia. The focus here is on cultural sensibility in healthcare delivery, and so we’ll explore culture from both a pragmatic and a personal perspective. Let’s start with the personal.


Because much of my work involves examining cultural influences, I often hear, “I don’t have a culture.” I also hear, “I’m not Jewish,” “I’m not Latino,” and “I’m not African American.” However, these refutations represent a narrow view of what culture is. Remember that culture is more than one’s ethnic group (individuals who self-identify membership with or belong to a group with shared values, ancestry, and experiences [Leininger & McFarland, 2002]).

So, the first step in our cultural sensibility journey is to visit points in our personal history from which we derive meaning, insight, encouragement, and inspiration.

Culture influences how we see the world. It guides and shapes how we think ...

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