Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Tonight my book club discussed "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures " by Anne Fadiman. The book is the story of Lia Lee, a Hmong child who is diagnosed with epilepsy. Her Hmong family and her medical doctors have two completely different world views and different perspectives on the nature of disease and healing. Because of profound communication blocks involving not only language but also culture and outlook, Lia receives less than optimum care, and her condition tragically worsens.

In addition to the story of the Lee family, this book is the fascinating story of the history of the Hmong people, a culture which has been subjected to tremendous amounts of persecution, isolation, tragedy, and suffering, but has remained an intact, vibrant culture with much to offer the world.

The story gave me much food for thought. How can we bridge the communication chasm between various people, cultures, and languages? Can two opposing views of reality both hold truths? Is the viewpoint we hold as "real" the only way to see the world?

The book would be helpful reading to anyone in the medical profession or social work, but even for the rest of us who may or may not encounter such profound cultural differences, the book holds deep lessons. Two people may come away from the same interaction with completely different translations based on background and beliefs about the way the world works. Can we use these differences to broaden our understanding instead of creating conflict?

Lia Lee


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