Cultural Specificity and Universality: An Indigenous Example

These days mostly we tend to orient toward the culturally specific, and that’s a good thing. Much of intersectionality, cultural competency, and cultural humility is all about drilling down into unique and valuable cultural and individual perspectives.

But these are also the days of Both-And.

In contrast to cultural specificity, some theorists—I’m thinking of William Glasser right now—were more known for their emphasis on cultural universality. Glasser contended that his five basic human needs were culturally universal; those needs included: Survival, belonging, power (recognition), freedom, and fun.

Although Glasser’s ideas may (or may not) have universal punch, he’s a white guy, and pushing universality from positions of white privilege are, at this particular point in history, worth questioning. That’s why I was happy to find an indigenous voice emphasizing universal ideas.

I came across a quotation from a Lakota elder, James Clairmont; he was discussing the concept of resilience, from his particular linguistic perspective:

The closest translation of “resilience” is a sacred word that means “resistance” . . . resisting bad thoughts, bad behaviors. We accept what life gives us, good and bad, as gifts from the Creator. We try to get through hard times, stressful times, with a good heart. The gift [of adversity] is the lesson we learn from overcoming it.

Clairmont’s description of “the sacred word that means resilience” are strikingly similar to several contemporary ideas in counseling and psychotherapy practice.

  • “Resisting bad thoughts, bad behaviors” is closely linked to CBT
  • “We accept what life gives us, good and bad, as gifts from the Creator” fits well with mindfulness
  • “We try to get through hard times, stressful times, with a good heart” is consistent with optimism concepts in positive psychology
  • “The gift [of adversity] is the lesson we learn from overcoming it” and this is a great paraphrase of Bandura’s feedback and feed-forward ideas

In these days of cultural specificity, it makes sense to work from both perspectives. We need to recognize and value our unique differences, while simultaneously noticing our similarities and areas of convergence. Clairmont’s perspectives on resilience make me want to learn more about Lakota ideas, both how they’re similar and different from my own cultural and educational experiences.

6 thoughts on “Cultural Specificity and Universality: An Indigenous Example”

  1. Clairmont, You & Glasser, a Trifecta for sure! Had the wonderful experience of spending day in UM Education School long ago. Love his books, and your reflection adding James Clairmont to that long ago conversation.

  2. From being a small child I believed in God, my mum was a lapsed Catholic and my dad an Athieist…..all good fun I can tell you 😆

    Anyway for years I searched and as a teenager landed myself in the Salvation Army, much to my dad’s disappointment. That didn’t last as the youth around me from Salvationist families were testing their boundaries in the opposite ways within their families. It didn’t sit right with me.

    As the years progressed I explored other faiths and found how similar they all were eventually deciding that there had to be one in which I could live my spiritual life. I’m happy to say I did and still do.

    What I am trying to say I suppose, is the more we search, the more we find that we are all much of a muchness. The trouble has been we have strayed from the basics.

    I too would now like to know more about the Lakotas John. 🙂

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