Indifference vs. Sensitivity
With this cultural indifference lesson plan, teach students to become mindful of the culture of others. Cultural insensitivity is the cause of
problems throughout society. In fact, the more multicultural society becomes, the more we need information that helps us to be aware of cultural indifference.
Cultural indifference is the opposite of cultural empathy. Instead of feeling for and understanding another culture, there is an absence of feeling, an absence of caring, which causes situations from minor embarrassment to major conflict.
The objectives of this lesson plan are to:
- Enable students to understand other cultures.
- Give students the tools to learn about other cultures.
- Open dialogue for students who have questions concerning other cultures.
- Create tolerance and understanding among students, their communities and the world.
- Small gift boxes wrapped in different colored paper (all colors of the rainbow, include black and white)
- Handout on color symbolism – available as a download by clicking on the link
- Paper and pens
Have students each choose a gift box, writing down the color of their choice. Ask them to write down why they were drawn to that particular color. Give out the handout. Have students find their color choice on the handout. Are there surprises? Did students from other cultures make choices that fell within their culture? If not, why did they pick something outside of their norm?
After students have had an opportunity to record their thoughts, ask if any of them would like to share what they learned with the class.
Discuss how in business, the knowledge of color symbolism in cultures is very important. Discuss various international gift giving customs as well as the importance of knowing these customs when visiting or doing business in other countries.
Have students make a list of various body movements, hand gestures and facial expressions that convey understood meaning to them and their peers.
Have students to a WebQuest on body language in other cultures using these safe links – (Warning: do not let students search the Internet unsupervised.)
- CNN Money: Body Language Savvy
- Terry Morrison's Kiss Bow or Shake Hands: Doing Business Around the World
- Andrews University: Nonverbal Communication Modes
- Everything ESL.net: Communicating With Gestures
Have students compare their list of body movements, hand gestures and facial expressions with other cultures. Make a second list of body actions that are considered offensive in other countries. Discuss how some common gestures/movements can be considered obscene or rude in other cultures.
In the National Geographic article, Food Taboos: It's All a Matter of Taste, we learn, "Food taboos and delicacies often arise from cultural and religious beliefs; one person's meat is another's poison. The humble hamburger, a mainstay of U.S. cuisine, is a forbidden food for Hindus. Pork is off the menu for many Jews and Muslims. More than 1,400 species of protein-packed insects are part of African, Asian, Australian and Latin American cuisine, but one would be hard pressed to find these creepy crawlies at a U.S. restaurant (at least intentionally)."
Insensitivity to cultural taboos in food has caused many hard feelings between international visitors and their hosts. Explain to students that a taboo is something that is forbidden because of either social or religious custom.
Brainstorm with students what foods they cannot eat and the reasons why. Some students will list foods that they are allergic to, while others might list foods that are culturally forbidden.
Discuss with students why Jews and Muslims do not eat pork and Hindus do not eat beef because of religious taboos, and why Catholics during the liturgical season of Lent only eat fish on Fridays.
Ask students to brainstorm ideas for creating more awareness in their community of food taboos. Ideas might be a poster campaign, or letter to school administration requesting special foods be available for students with taboos.
To assess what students have learned from this cultural indifference lesson plan, ask them to pick one country to present to the class in a PowerPoint presentation. Have them address various issues in cultural indifference including color symbolism, body language, gift giving and food.
References and Resources
- Incredible Art Department, Color Symbolism and Culture, 2011
- National Geographic, Is a Smile Always Just a Smile?, 2008
- BioMed, Victor B Meyer-Rochow, Food Taboos: Their Origins and Purposes, June 2009
- TEFLnet, Alex Case, Important Cultural Differences in the Classroom, 2008,
- National Geographic, Regional Foods, 2008