Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Humility & Learning

Student Perspective--the following post is from a fall 2011 student.

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Being at my practicum site has enabled me to learn even more about serving and learning in another culture and the connection between the two. I am learning many practical things that will help me in my future career but the way I am learning them helps me to learn about culture now. Being at my practicum site requires me to have more humility in order to learn from the staff and patients there. It enables me to engage with people in a non-invasive way, allowing me to meet people and learn more about the culture. By interacting with the staff, I have also had insights into how Africans view the self from the outside whereas Westerners tend to view it from the inside instead.

When I visited my practicum site for the first time, the doctor who I will be working with told me that if I use humility I will learn a lot more from the staff. I decided to keep this in mind during my following visits. In my practicum class, I was assigned a reading that reinforced this concept even more. We were required to read from Cross Cultural Servanthood. One of the main topics was humility. Duane Elmer, the author, says that, “humility is the posture of a servant.” Characteristics of humility, as described by Elmer, are lowliness of mind, gentleness of spirit, and meekness of attitude. I think that this is what Dr. Dixon was meaning as he told me that I would learn more through humility. Although I plan to be a doctor someday, I do not know as much as the people who are at the clinic. They know more about how things work in the African context. I have learned about diseases and healthcare but it has been through a western viewpoint. They have more to teach me if I am willing to lower myself and have an accepting and open attitude. I will be able to learn much more by doing this than by thinking that I know some things better than they do. 

I can also learn from the patients, who do not even know that they are teaching me and who may not see me a student of their culture. I was learning to give immunizations one day and many of the mothers were thanking me. I can understand why they would thank me to some degree; I technically was giving their children something to prevent diseases. However, I felt that I should be more grateful to them because they were being my teachers, even if they did not know it. They were teaching me how to someday become a better medical professional by allowing me to interact with them and their children. They were also teaching me as I was working with their records. I got to meet them, learn their names, and find out where they are from. By interacting with them, I felt that I was learning more about their culture. I think this is what Taylor means when he talks about being able to, “enter, sensitively and appreciatively, into that other man’s world, not, first, in order to talk more effectively about his Lord but in order to see what the Lord of that world is like.” Although this focuses on religion, I think it can be applied to all aspects of life, like the medical field. I did not go to the clinic with the mindset of telling them how to run things. I want to learn from them, the staff and patients both. To do this, I need to listen to them and see how it is that they do things.

The Doctor I am working under, Dr. Dixon, told me some of his philosophy in practicing medicine while we were touring the clinic. He mentioned showing compassion towards the patients and also having a sense of humor with them. I think this reflects Taylor’s idea of African’s inter-related and wide-spanning view of self because it shows an approach to medicine that encompasses the entire being. He told me that with HIV patients he automatically starts treating depression by showing compassion and humor. Although they may not be depressed, it may come later and he wants to prevent or lessen it. This is different from the U.S. where doctors will treat only the disease that the person has come in for. All other problems or potential problems don’t necessarily get addressed even though they may be connected. We see these as problems that can arise from the inside and we will fix them when those changes on the inside occur. Africans, on the other hand, believe that outside forces can affect your health as well.

My practicum site has allowed me to engage in very beneficial learning experiences. It has reinforced the concept of humility that Elmer wrote about. I would not be able to learn as much from the other people at the clinic if I cannot humbly ask for their guidance. Being at the clinic has also reinforced the idea of having a scattered self that can be affected by outside forces.

Angelina (Fall 2011)
Bethel College (IN)

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Sources Cited:

Elmer, Duane. Cross Cultural Servanthood. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Taylor, John V. The Primal Vision. London: SCM-Canterbury, 1963.

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