Response to Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

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Response to Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

In the non-fictional novel, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, several discourses are raised over aspects such as cultural beliefs and their interplay between religious and societal convictions. The author, Anne Fadiman, establishes the conflicting issues that tend to pervade society by focusing on the clash between the cultural beliefs of a Hmong family and the conventional western medical convictions of the physicians that they interact with after their daughter’s illness. The extent of the dispute is further shown by the negative consequences that arise as illustrated by the demise of the ailing daughter as an outcome of the cultural and religious obstacles exhibited by the parties in question. While it may be simple to impose blame on the groups in question, the author does not necessarily assume such a biased and irrational stance. Instead, Fadiman establishes that each party was simply implementing actions and tactics that seemed best for the patient while being informed by the respective beliefs that they possess.

Despite this, the novel raises questions that are centered on the notion of cultural sensitivity or the lack thereof. Based on the consequences that befall the Hmong family, it may be rational to assume that insufficient understanding and communication of the beliefs that were exhibited by both groups imposed limitations that affected the provision of the effective care to the child in question. The issues that are presented in Fadiman’s text are also evidenced in the real world setting to a rather significant degree. Presently, the United States is home to different cultures and beliefs as an outcome of forces such as globalization, which has allowed persons from disparate backgrounds to cross boundaries. These backgrounds bear varying sets of beliefs and convictions that are considerably different from the traditional beliefs exhibited in hegemonic Christian societies (“Faith Communities and Disability”). In this respect, while the American society may be comprised of different religious beliefs and convictions, the hegemony of Christian-based values and beliefs create an individualistic context inclined towards these convictions.

An illustration of this involves the perception of disability in faith-based communities. Irrespective of the newfound ideals that necessitate the inclusion of all persons, with the disabled as an example, some communities that abide by faith-based values and tenets ostracize and exclude persons that suffer from mental and physical impairments. Even though scriptural foundations for hospitality exist in these communities, some of them inhabit cultural backgrounds that implement exclusionary perceptions and approaches against people that are disabled (“Faith Communities and Disability”). This occurrence is an illustration of the extent to which conflicts associated with differing cultural and religious beliefs tend to create negative situations that fail to establish corrective resolutions capable of assisting individuals that are in need. In this respect, disabled individuals in need of spiritual assistance are a representation of the daughter, Lia, from Fadiman’s text due to the way they are affected by the aforementioned conflict. Consequently, these conflicts eventually affect people with impairments by excluding them from receiving proper attention.

While Fadiman’s text illustrates the negativity associated with the lack of cultural sensitivity, it also portrays the steps that can be implemented in order to ensure harmony across different cultural convictions and backgrounds. From the text, one cannot help but notice the difference in outcome if the physicians had taken the beliefs of the Hmong family into account. Indeed, if the doctors attending to Lia had focused on contemplating the practices that the family advocated for, then the family may have also considered the measures and approaches that the physicians supported. This cooperative relationship – regardless of the difference in beliefs – may have actually prevented the demise of the Hmong family’s daughter. Similarly, the inclusion of persons with impairments in faith communities is a welcome practice that should be implemented due to the positive implications that it actually poses. While engaging in culturally sensitive practices, faith communities include disabled persons hence challenging conventional norms that prohibited the respective group as an outcome of issues beyond their control.

To this end, the novel, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman raises questions regarding the conflict between religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds. Accordingly, Fadiman uses the sickness and death of a Hmong child in an effort to illustrate the negative consequences derived from conflicts between beliefs as an outcome of different cultural backgrounds. Using this illustration, the clash between the aspects in question is evidenced in faith communities whereby conventional values and cultures seem to collide with contemporary backgrounds that necessitate the inclusion of certain groups. Based on the outcomes that are reflected in the novel, Fadiman seems to advocate for the imploration of cultural sensitivity. With this, differing beliefs and backgrounds are considered and respected in an effort to establish a proper way forward. In Lia’s case, the consideration of these values and beliefs between the Hmong family and the physicians may have actually imposed a positive impact. Presently, the inclusion of disabled persons in faith communities may occur if differing cultural convictions and religious beliefs are observed amicably and equally. Nonetheless, the implementation of culturally sensitive frameworks permits the derivation of positive objectives.

Works Cited

“Faith Communities and Disability.” Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, 2 July 2009. Accessed 1 May 2018.

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