PIC2d. How My Assumptions Affected My Professional Practice —

*This is an example of one of the ACPE Chaplaincy Competencies for Board Certification—An example of how my assumptions affected my professional practice was during my visit with a Jordanian-American woman named RZ who was 86, who suffered from dementia and a stroke.  She slept for the whole visit, but I spoke at length with her adult daughter-in-law, AM.  AM appeared to be around my age. The nurses were speaking to the patient, RZ, in English, and AM would give the instructions to her mom-in-law in Arabic.  Assessment: At first, AM seemed defensive–arms folded, stern disposition, etc.  I assessed that AM’s religious affiliation with Islam was “somewhat important,” at first because AM was wearing a head covering around her hair. This is a fairly conservative look.  At first glance, I thought AM was wearing a hijab, but upon reflection and research, I realized that she was wearing an al-amira versus a hijab. When the nurses introduced me, AM’s countenance and mood changed radically.  I was wearing a collared shirt that is universally recognized as being the garment that Christian clergy wear. AM moved from the foot of the bed on RZ’s right to my place, on the side of the bed closest to the door.  She grabbed a chair for me, then a chair for herself, and sat down to my right, maybe about two feet from me. I felt deeply affirmed and was taken back that AM grabbed a chair for me and was so eager to speak.  I was also surprised at her physical proximity to me as a female Muslim.  Assessment: I inferred that AM’s initial defensiveness was based on her mother-in-law’s condition.  Interventions: I informed AM about pastoral care services. I asked AM what gave meaning and hope to her life and to RZ’s life. I asked about her story. Outcomes: My day was greatly enriched by this visit! It turns out that RZ was born in Kuwait, then moved to Jordan. Half of the family then migrated to California.  It was then that I understood that AM was used to American people, and lived in California for several years.  California has got to one of the most diverse states in the U.S., if not the most diverse.  I made cultural assumptions about physical proximity, the nature of topics I could discuss, and just general discourse with AM because I am a non-Muslim male, and she is a female who is not related to me.  I made my assumptions based on my time in the Middle East in the mid 2,000s. However, Jordan is not the same place as war-era Iraq, AM was highly educated, spoke better English than I did, and was also used to diversity and American culture.  One thing I wondered was whether AM was so open to talking because she was “Americanized,” or if AM simply was a warm and friendly person.  I believe it was simply AM’s personality.  She was definitely an Enneagram 8! AM got especially passionate about respect and how people of various religions and cultures should maintain high levels of respect. I concur with that sentiment because honor and respect are things I value highly.  AM discussed how gardening and good food made her and RZ happy.  AM discussed how her husband moved her from California for work. AM told me about various Middle Eastern foods and told me about an Iranian restaurant here. AM and I discussed the Qu’ran at length. She recommended that I study the Hadith (sayings of Mohammed) because the Qu’ran is comprised of very old, classical Arabic. At the end of the visit, AM was appreciative and said that I was one of the “good ones.” I was grateful that we were able to connect, and hopefully, AM saw that I was empathetic towards her mom-in-law’s condition. I tried to engage AM about RZ’s condition several times, but each time she would deflect until I stopped trying and just let the conversation flow in the direction she wanted.