Maybe There Is Another Way

Feb 26, 2021

Imagine the cultural perspective of a car full of Texas teens traveling together engaging in an exploration of cultures other than their own.
Credit Xavier Romero-Frias, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release, When Life Feels Like a House Fire: Transforming Your Stress. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman is thought-provoking and insightful. Even though it was written in 1997, it’s still standard reading for some nursing schools today. The book does a beautiful job of leaving you sympathetic to both the American doctors, as well as the Hmong refugees whom they’re trying to treat.

In the summer of 2009, a dear church friend who has since died from COVID, and I took a van full of grumpy teenager of our church’s first Holy Pilgrimage to South Dakota. The teenagers were angry because there was a technology ban for the 16-hour drive there and back, or for the full week there. No cell phones, no computers, no iPods. Nothing.

That week was life-changing for us all. We visited Wounded Knee, Mount Rushmore, and climbed the Lakota’s’ most sacred mountain, Bear Butte mountain. We spent the week exploring our Christian faith through the eyes of the Lakota.

What I noticed from the get-go was that these Indigenous people are a “we” culture, while Americans tend to be a “me” culture.

Meaning, they tend to the think of the group collective first … whether it’s the family unit, the broader community or their entire tribe. In the good ol’ US of A, we pride ourselves on individuality. Don’t get me wrong, I am born and raised from Texas and love being an American, but to the Lakota, everyone and everything is interconnected and deserves equal respect, from doing chores around the house to being chief of the tribe.

Here in America, the fast-food worker is not as important as the CEO who’s waiting to buy said bag of burgers.

The teenagers noticed the cultural contrast, too. We all admitted we tended to think about how life affects “us” before “others.” We realized with the Lakota … maybe there’s another way?  A better way?

By the end of the week, even the grumpy teenagers agreed no technology left them feeling more creative, energized and grounded. We all wanted to go home and be more open-minded, to see that our way was not the only way. Especially to those we feel are “different” than us.

We also have several cultures within the same country of the United States. This Book Byte was recorded in February 2021, still in the middle of COVID-19. Yes, vaccines are here, and life is looking up, but I think we all feel battered and bruised from our first global pandemic together.

Over and over this past year, I watched the difference between the “me” mentality and the “we” mentality. Masks versus no masks. Quarantining at home versus don’t tread on my rights. Republicans versus democrats. Some folks delight in arguing with family, friends and strangers in person and online, while others chose to bury their heads in the sand because it’s all so unpleasant.

Neither response is especially helpful.

I do not profess to have the answers to any of this because everything is still playing out in real time. However, we need to find how to move forward together. 

Maybe there’s another way?  A better way?

So, those are my thoughts after The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a must-read book that feels more like a dialogue between you and the author, rather than a narrative.

This is Marcy McKay, local author from Amarillo and Radio Reader from High Plains Public Radio. For more information, go to HPPR.org.