Essay on Cultural Dynamics and Social Perspectives in 'The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down'

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1768 Words
Date:  2024-01-24

Diversity and culture stand as the key determinant factors in an individual practice within the society. Differences in cultural practices and beliefs may result in either positive or negative impacts on an individual, either directly or indirectly. Based on the book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" (Fadiman, 1997), a kind of cultural collision is exhibited between two divergent cultures. The book focuses on the story of Lia Lee, whose parents were immigrants from Laos to Merced in 1980. When he was three months old, Lia was diagnosed with a health complication which, as per the American doctors, was referred to as epilepsy on the other hand, Lia's parents called it quag dab peg or "the spirit catches you, and you fall down." According to the doctors, the appropriate prescribed treatment was Depakene and Valium. Contrary, Lia's parents believed Lia had lost her soul and could only be found by offering an animal sacrifice and hiring shamans to intervene. In an attempt by the American doctors to understand the Hmong beliefs of Lia's Parents, most of the doctors interpreted the culture differently, perceiving it as ignorance by Lias' parents. According to the book, the author exhibits how the Hmong's impetuous ethnicity strongly challenged the American ideal of assimilation. The non-blending two cultures between the American Hmong Lia's parents led to prolonged massive seizures, which resulted in what was declared brain dead. Generally, the book exhibits the importance of involving "cross-culture medicine" and admitting without condemnation of medical attitude differences regarding various cultures.

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Based on the Lees' story, as reflected in the book, Social worker Jeanine Hilt worked closely with Lia and the Lee family. Despite her being a government worker, Hilt managed to find a connection with Lia's parents, where she offered herself to assist the parents. She was the first one to ask the Lees what could have been the cause of Lia's illness. Since then, Hilt ventured into full activeness in helping Lia. However, in the entire process of Hilt's dedication to helping Lia, the social worker had various perceptions regarding Lia's illness. From her perceptions, various theories and perspectives could be used to evaluate various characters in the book. These theories/perspectives involve:

Systems Perspective

System perspective is characterized by the structure in which various parties interact to attain society's well-being. Based on the book, various system-related perspectives have been evidenced by different individuals. For instance, Lee's family operates on social and cultural laws as formulated in the system structure that starts with the Hmong. Moreover, other system perspective scenarios have been reflected in the book, such as the child's cultural practices in naming a child. From the story of the Lia Lee family, specific cultures have been put in place on child naming. For an individual to be considered a full member of the human race, the mandatory hu plig ceremony.

Conflict Perspective

After a long interaction between Hilt and Lees, the social worker establishes a conflict perspective between the Lees who were Hmong, and other communities in the book. The conflict perspective demonstrates an existing inequality. Within a society characterized by gender inequality, race, ethnicity, social status, and power. For instance, through interaction with the Lees, Halt established that the Lees had no confidence in modern treatment whereby they believed their daughter had no medical problems. As per their explanations, they felt that Lia was an anointed individual whom they perceived as a royalty member. The Lees perceived Lia as a very special person in their culture since they proclaimed she had a spirit in her, and she could grow and become a shaman. Thus, as per the Lees, Lia condition was a blessing and not a medical problem as the American doctors established. Moreover, a perspective is also reflected in the book Among the Lees whereby the Lee family is established to treat one of their daughter (Yer) differently, claiming that her slamming the door was the cause of the problems being experienced by Lia. Additionally, a conflict of inequality is also exhibited in the book regarding the low value designated to the female gender. For instance, the book explains that when the girl child was born as per the Hmong, the placenta was buried beneath her parents' bed. However, if the newborn is a boy, the placenta is buried in a greatly honored place near the house's bottom of a wooden center pillar. Burying it at this point signifies that the male spirit made it home.

Social Constructionist Perspective

Also, based on Hilt's perspectives created from her interaction with the Lee family and Lia, the perspective of social constructionists could be established in the book. According to the social constructionist perspective, individuals should know what is universally true or false, good and bad, and wrong or write. The Social constructionist perspective abandons the constructivist idea that a person's mind reflects reality. Jeanine Hilt is a social worker who tried to bridge the gap between Hmong culture and Americans, from her conduct and interaction with the Lee family and Lia, this perspective of social constructionist can be evaluated in different scenarios. For instance, Hilt was the first person to make sure she got to know from the Lees what their daughter was hailing from. Her determination was derived by knowing the universal truth rather than depending on the Hmong beliefs that had no evidence. Additionally, the social constructionist's perspective can be assessed from Hilt's initiative of acquiring Lia's welfare service record that she could use to establish the problem with the patient and establish the deductions of the cause. Through such initiatives by Jeanine Hilt, the social constructionist perspective is exhibited through her imitative of ensuring that the individual mind is not reflected as the reality as it is between Lee Hmong and American doctors regarding Lia's illness.

Lee Family Friends

Based on the ecomap relationship, the Lee family is composed of the Father (Foua) and mother (Nao Kao) who have children, including Lia Lee. Interactions from different parties have characterized the Lee family life. For instance, Lee's family believes in Hmong practices and behaviors. Moreover, the Lees being American immigrants, are guided by different cultures. Also, the Lee family interacts with friends both from their culture and those from American culture. Additionally, since their daughter Lia fell sick, the Lee family has contacted American doctors, including American social workers such as Jeanine Hilt.

Theory and Perspectives

Social Cultural Theory

Sociocultural theory explains the important assistance that a society contributes towards individual development. The theory centers on the interaction between individuals and the cultural background in which they live. The theory also suggests that individual learning is a large social process. They reflect on the story of the Lee family and the entire community in the book; the theory of social culture has been reflected in various scenarios. For instance, Lee's family and other book community members, such as the American doctors, are determined to ensure Lia gets well. Social workers such as Jeanine Hilt have dedicated themselves to ensuring she understands Lia's problems' reality by getting into a friendly relationship with Lia's parents and asking them about their thoughts regarding Lia's illness. Moreover, Hilt being also a government social work she goes the extra mile than other doctors to bridge the gap between Hmong culture and Americans. Such initiatives exhibit the important contributions of society members toward other people's well-being. Moreover, through community members' contributions to other individuals at different levels through service or educating them, knowledge and change would be expanded in society. Based on the social-cultural theory, I have understood the relationship of some characters and situations within the stories within the book. For instance, the exhibited character by Jeanine Hilt to move forward and bridge the gap between Hmong, culture and Americans despite being of different cultures, indicates that as individuals we should not be burred by our social differences in sharing our knowledge with others.

Social Exchange Theory

The theory of social exchange proposes that social behavior results from the process of exchange. The theory weighs the potential return and the social relationship risks. In scenarios where the risk is more than the reward, the opponent may abandon the relationship. Considering the story of Lee's family and other individuals and situations in the book, social exchange theory seems to be applied. For instance, Lee's family being immigrants to America, is considered part of the minority group characterized by poverty challenges. Thus, the American doctors' idea of not much concentrating on establishing the health problem experienced by Lia could have been attributed to lower reward compared to risk since Lee's family could not afford the cost. This theory of social exchange applies to several human behaviors of different micro levels of social exchanges. Both from service and trade, every individual is motivated by a final reward, and in scenarios where there is a likeliness of threats relating to loss, the relationship is withdrawn. Based on this theory and various reflected scenarios and characters in the book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," I understand that most individuals do not do good towards someone in the spirit of good faith, but they are derived with personal gains, that can be abandoned in case a threat is signaled.

Empowerment Theory

Empowerment can be defined as a construct linking individual strength and competence, natural helping factors, active social policy behaviors, and changes. Empowerment theory links an individual well-being with his/her entire large social and political environment characterized by different factors such as beliefs, norms, and practices. As per the theory, the construct of empowerment links individual mental health to communal assistance and the struggle to create a responsive community. Based on the story of the Lee family and other individuals and situations in the book, various exhibited conditions reflect the assumptions stated in the theory of empowerment. For instance, the dilemma created between the American doctors and Lia's parents regarding Lia's illness is due to cross-cultural differences. The empowerment possessed by both parties is linked to their culture and who each individual believes to be right for their social and political environment well-being. This theory of empowerment cuts across various social culture micro-levels where each individual executes a specific mandate as recognized in his/her social and political environment. Comparing the theory to other various exhibitions in the book, it can be understood that each party exercised its role in adherence to its social and political environment. For instance, the Lee family's argument that Lia had no health problems is linked to the Hmong beliefs of the Lees family.

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Essay on Cultural Dynamics and Social Perspectives in 'The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down'. (2024, Jan 24). Retrieved from

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