The importance of studying culture can be found in the diversity of people both around the world and within our own communities. For example, although many communities may be quite limited in terms of religion and race/ethnicity, nearly all communities have a mixture of gender and age. Although religion, race/ethnicity, gender, and age may be the major factors that have traditionally been studied in the field of psychology, in the instances where culture was studied, it is important to remember two additional points. First, there are other cultural factors that may be very important for certain individuals and/or select groups of people, and second, people can be excitingly (or frustratingly, depending on your point of view) unique in their individuality.
One area of diversity that has been receiving more attention as a cultural factor affecting the lives of many people is that of physical disability. In the past, although it was recognized that individuals with physical disabilities experience basically the same personality development processes as other people, disabilities were considered to be specific conditions that isolated the disabled person from their surroundings (Barker et al., 1953; Pintner et al., 1941). Over time, as more research became available on the psychology of people with disabilities (e.g., Goodley & Lawthorn, 2006; Henderson & Bryan, 1984; Marks, 1999; McDaniel, 1976; Roessler & Bolton, 1978; Stubbins, 1977; Vash, 1981; Wright, 1983), perspectives on how to study these individuals changed as well. In 2004, the Society for Disability Studies adopted preliminary guidelines for developing programs in disability studies. They emphasize challenging the previously held view that disabilities are individual deficits or defects that can or should be fixed by “experts.” Rather, they recommend exploring models that examine cultural, social, political, and economic factors which integrate personal and collective responses to difference (the society’s website is www.disstudies.org).
There are several chapters in this book where we will address the biological aspects of personality development, including the mind-body connection. Whereas a few academic authors have made passing mention of the value of exercise, self-defense training, and spirituality in coping with physical disabilities (Nardo, 1994; Robinson, 1995; Sobsey, 1994), one particularly interesting area in which culture, physical disability, the mind-body connection, positive psychology, and spirituality all come together is martial arts training (see Kelland, 2009, 2010). A number of notable martial arts experts actively encourage people with disabilities to practice the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of these ancient exercises (such as Grandmaster Mark Shuey Sr. of the Cane Masters International Association, Master Jurgen Schmidt of the International Disabled Self-Defense Association, and Grandmaster John Pellegrini of the International Combat Hapkido Federation), and several books are available on this subject (McNab, 2003; Robertson, 1991; Withers, 2007). We will revisit this topic later in the book, but for now consider the diversity of cultures and personal interests that come together when, for example, a disabled American living in the modern world pursues the spiritual and physical development associated with an ancient, Asian practice of self-development.
When considering the life of an individual like Shawn Withers, the son of a Maine fisherman, who suffered a massive stroke at the age of 20, but then went on to earn a black belt in Kenpo Karate and then developed his own style known as Broken Wing Kenpo (Withers, 2007), broad descriptions of personality theory and cultural perspectives fall short of giving us an understanding of the person. Thus, some researchers, like Dan McAdams (McAdams, 1985, 2006; McAdams et al., 2001), have emphasized the need for studying a narrative framework within which we not only live our lives, but actually create them:
…like stories in literature, the stories we tell ourselves in order to live bring together diverse elements into an integrated whole, organizing the multiple and conflicting facets of our lives within a narrative framework which connects past, present, and an anticipated future and confers upon our lives a sense of sameness and continuity - indeed, an identity. As the story evolves and our identity takes form, we come to live the story as we write it, assimilating our daily experience to a schema of self that is a product of that experience. (pg. v; McAdams, 1985)
Although this textbook will cover broad personality theories and cultural perspectives, there are also reflective elements and discussion questions included to help you try to address your own narrative stories. In addition, there are biographies at the beginning of each chapter on the major theorists, which although they are not personal narratives, will nonetheless give some insight into the sort of person that theorist was, and hopefully, how their life and their personal experiences helped to shaped the personality theory they developed.