14. Changing Survival Demands - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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14. Changing Survival Demands

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > All Relationships MultiCult

All Relationships and Therapy are Multi-Cultural- Family and Cross-Cultural Complications
by Ronald Mah

In a discussion of what has historically defined culture, a case can be made that geography and climate, that is, the environment has historically defined culture.  Survival mediated the attitudes, values, beliefs, and subsequent behaviors in diverse geographical and climatic environments.  Harsh to mild weather patterns, fertility of soils, scarcity or abundance of wildlife or fishing, and terrain that determined the ease of transportation of people or goods from place to place were among the environmental determinants of survival choices.  Malcolm Gladwell (2008) in his book "Outliers" makes a case for how the demands of rice cultivation influenced by the terrain of Asia may have affected the mathematical precocity of modern Asian students.  A further case can be made that culture or cultural change is profoundly affected by technological change.  For example, two hypothetical communities compete in the areas of agriculture and warfare.  When both are planting and harvesting using their hands and contend physically for domination and territory with fists, feet, and teeth, neither community has technological superiority.  However, as soon as one community grabs stones to throw or fallen branches to strike others with, the conflict conditions change.  One group has technological superiority with sticks and stones and becomes more likely to prevail in battle over mere teeth, fists, and feet.  This group thus takes and maintains territory because of superior battle technology.  If that community also uses the sticks (even better to find a way to attach a stone to a stick) not just for battle, but to better break the soil for planting harvestable crops, it also can feed and sustain a larger community.  The "arms" war and agricultural inequity creates a demand for the other community to change in order to survive their more aggressively and agriculturally adept foes.  The communities eventually equalizes as both communities adopt the same technology.  However, eventually one community creates bronze weapons and bronze tools, including agricultural implements.  With clear technological superiority again, this community would and does dominate lesser technological peoples.  An entire set of cultural advances ensue that build on the consequences of the technological advances.  Replication and advance of technology by other communities happens over and over with the invention of iron, of steel, of explosives, of combustion engines, and so forth.  There is a competitive push for communities and societies to continually adapt.  In other words, culture adapts to technological changes.  In addition other technological advances affect society: irrigation, communication, transportation, printing, and so forth.  Societal and cultural change is more complex than merely that technological change prompts cultural change.  However, it is relevant and illustrative in looking at individuals, relationships, the couple, and the family as to their historical versus contemporary functionality.

Since environmental, technological, and historical contexts significantly affect the development of cultures, the question of whether or not any particular culture- its attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors are successful depends largely in the context in which they operate.  "One postmodern theory that has some influence in psychotherapy is social constructionism.  Social constructionism suggests that what we know as reality is constructed through interactions with others… Understandings or meanings that individuals attach to any given behaviour, interaction, or event will be determined by the social and cultural contexts in which they occur.  Relevant social contexts could include: family, racial/ethnic group, religious identification, work setting, place of residence, and others.  From this position, psychological theories are merely agreed upon understandings which have proven to be useful in one or more contexts… As no account or interpretation of reality can be considered more accurate than any other, the focus is on how or when ideas are useful" (Biever et al, 1998).

No culture has intrinsic value if it does not fit the demands of the social context in which it exists.  The context presented to the therapist for intervention is the life and circumstances of any particular relationship.  As a result, the functional definition of culture as being successful is whether it serves the function of survival first, and then secondly, whether it serves a function of helping one to flourish.  In the case of the relationship, successful culture first functions to enable individuals to stay together in the relationship.  Then, if it enables the individuals in the relationship to emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually flourish.  The challenge of cross-cultural or multicultural situations for a member in a relationship, the relationship, and for therapists, human services professionals, or community activists becomes whether or not, and also which of his or her attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors (his or her personal culture) acquired from his or her context of origin and experience, are transferable or applicable in the new contexts.  For the individuals, that would be the marriage, partnership, or relationship.  For therapists, they must transfer themselves into the context of therapy with a particular relationship.  Therapeutic reality is constructed through interactions with the members of the presenting relationship.

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3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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