In the East, so­ci­eties strug­gle to bal­ance tra­di­tion and moder­nity

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

At one point in time, be­fore the dawn of mod­ern med­i­cal science, cul­tures around the world at­trib­uted phys­i­cal and men­tal ill­ness to taboos and su­per­sti­tions, think­ing that dis­ease was a phe­nom­e­non much like bad luck, a di­vine sign of the wrath of the gods.

But, thanks to sci­en­tific ad­vance­ment, we are no longer burning peo­ple on stakes in the name of witch hunts; nei­ther is pos­ses­sion the thing we think of when some­one falls ill ei­ther men­tally or phys­i­cally. Well, not in de­vel­oped West­ern coun­tries at least.

Not that Eastern coun­tries are less de­vel­oped or are more un­civ­i­lized than our West­ern coun­ter­parts, but for a mod­ern coun­try like Tai­wan, a ma­jor­ity of our pop­u­la­tion re­mains im­mensely re­li­gious and su­per­sti­tious to a fault. And the trend is com­mon­place in believ­ers of tra­di­tional Eastern re­li­gions found in coun­tries like Ja­pan, Korea, main­land China and of course Tai­wan.

For Eastern coun­tries, reli­gion, cul­ture and tra­di­tion are of­ten just dif­fer­ent terms to de­fine the same thing. Af­ter living through a con­sis­tent devel­op­ment in his­tory, Eastern cul­tures are of­ten older than West­ern cul­tures, which re­sults in a close bond be­tween reli­gion and our daily lives. But in the case of emo­tional, men­tal and habitual well-be­ing, hav­ing a life­style that is heav­ily dic­tated by tra­di­tional re­li­gions and val­ues ar­guably does more harm than good.

Case in point, the first idea a lot of Tai­wanese par­ents tended to fall back on in the very re­cent past when their new­born baby wouldn’t stop cry­ing was to bring their kids to a lo­cal Taoist estab­lish­ment so that a shaman-like per­son may per­form the rit­ual of Siu-Kiann ( ) on the in­fant. The rit­ual is per­formed to help re­trieve part of a scat­tered soul of a child, which had left the body af­ter en­dur­ing a fright­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, thus re­sult­ing in an in­fant feel­ing un­set­tled. Si­uKiann of­ten concludes with par­ents feed­ing their ba­bies wa­ter that in­cludes burned spell pa­pers — that’s right, burned pa­pers — once the fam­ily re­turns home.

There are many rea­sons why in­fants would feel un­set­tled, and cry­ing is one of the ways — if not the only way — a baby could tell their par­ents that some­thing is wrong. Per­haps a child is suf­fer­ing from a high fever or a stom­ach flu, which, by com­mon sense, should not be treated with the con­sump­tion of wa­ter mixed with burned pa­per.

Aside from su­per­sti­tions, the ar­chaic be­lief in so­cial eti­quette and hi­er­ar­chy are also rea­sons why be­hav­ioral science, emo­tional ther­apy, psy­chol­ogy and psy­chi­a­try are de­vel­op­ing at an ex­tremely slug­gish pace in a coun­try that would greatly ben­e­fit from such sciences.

Though more prom­i­nent men­tal and emo­tional dis­abil­i­ties like Down Syn­drome and autism have been rec­og­nized and ac­cepted by most Tai­wanese fam­i­lies, the most com­mon of be­hav­ioral ill­nesses like at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der (ADD) and ad­dic­tion are com­pletely disregarded by a ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion even though the prob­lems are in plain sight.

Prob­lems like ADD, ad­dic­tion and emo­tional is­sues could be di­ag­nosed and treated though proper med­i­ca­tion and ther­apy. But, as a re­sult of the taboo in Eastern cul­tures, many think that even go­ing to see a coun­selor would mean that an in­di­vid­ual likely suf­fers from men­tal ill­ness, and there­fore such prob­lems are left un­treated. Cor­re­spond­ingly, coun­sel­ing re­mains less de­vel­oped in Tai­wan than in other coun­tries.

In the case of be­hav­ioral prob­lems like gam­bling and drink­ing ad­dic­tion, Eastern cul­tures have a lot to do with en­abling th­ese is­sues as op­posed to com­bat­ing them. It has been proven that the estab­lish­ment of group ther­a­pies through in­ter­ven­tions, anony­mous meet­ings and re­habs would greatly im­prove one’s ad­dic­tive con­di­tion through shar­ing and group sup­port. How­ever, as Eastern so­cial norms would dic­tate, an in­ter­ven­tion or group ther­apy would be highly im­pos­si­ble due to the twisted un­der­stand­ing of re­spect and hi­er­ar­chy.

Most peo­ple with age or so­cial se­nior­ity in Eastern cul­tures would ever let those who are younger or are at a lower so­cial sta­tus aid them with con­fronting their in­ner demons by ad­dress­ing be­hav­ioral prob­lems. Thus, fam­ily in­ter­ven­tions and group ther­a­pies are rarely heard of in the East.

Un­for­tu­nately, it is safe to say that progress of emo­tional ther­apy and coun­sel­ing will not hap­pen any­time soon; not while a con­sid­er­able amount of the pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to re­strain them­selves by the norms of out­dated tra­di­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.