Lebanese psychologist: There is no such thing as a “third world country”

Dr. Naji Abi-Hashem
Dr. Naji Abi-Hashem

The topic of cultural competency is touchy, but it was discussed in great detail Thursday afternoon.

Oklahoma State University hosted Dr. Naji Abi-Hashem, a clinical and cultural psychologist from Beirut, Lebanon, to give a lecture titled “Understanding and Working with People from Arab and Middle Eastern Backgrounds.”

The lecture was adapted from a four-hour lecture at the American Psychology Association’s 2016 National Convention in August.

Bob Larzelere, a Human Development and Family Science faculty member, saw the lecture and invited Abi-Hashem to speak at OSU. They attended the Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University together, Larzalere said.

Abi-Hashem’s lecture discussed the obstacles in dealing with people of other cultures. His first Powerpoint slide read, “Arab does not equal Middle Eastern. Middle Eastern does not equal Muslim. Muslim does not equal terrorist.”

In his lecture, Abi-Hashem highlighted the impact of events such as the Syrian refugee crisis on America and other nations around the world. In the small country of Lebanon, there is one Syrian refugee for every three Lebanese citizens, Abi-Hashem said. In dealing with the culture shock and imminent clashes, the Lebanese people have “learned to accept” other cultures and peoples.

“Cultures are different, not hierarchical,” Abi-Hashem said. “Mentalities, habits, belief systems and world views vary, but one is not inferior or superior to another.”

Part of understanding and accepting other people is being conscious of the way individuals talk to and about them, Abi-Hashem said. He believes there is no such thing as a “third world country” because countries don’t have a ranking.

Abi-Hashem told the audience of about 40 to “always be slow in classifying others” because a mentality of compartmentalizing leads to rash judgments of others.

“Reality is always larger than what we experience,” Abi-Hashem said. “You should leave every encounter with a new person with a new enrichment.”