Identity, sympathy examined through culture

Shavonne Rogers
Staff Writer

Aghop Der-Karabetian, professor of psychology, gave his last faculty lecture, titled “World Mindedness” Tuesday in the President’s Dining Room.

Der-Karabetian said being world-minded is getting out of one’s skin and being in somebody else’s skin.

“We are who we are by the way we compare ourselves to others,” Der-Karabetian said.

First he talked about who he is. He shared his real name – Hagop Der Garabedian – his real date of birth and his legal birth date, and his exact ethnic origin based on a DNA test. Der-Karabetian showed a picture of his grandmother, who survived the Armenian genocide, holding him up when he was 4 months old. He said the picture is symbolic for him because his grandmother physically holding him up symbolizes the past generations that have helped him be the person he is today.

Der-Karabetian began to explore his identity early on as a teenager. Living in Lebanon as an Armenian Christian, he said he came to know diversity quickly. Most Armenians were Apostolic, but he was identified as Armenian Protestant. He said he was a minority in a minority and he knew his place.

His earliest research began in 1971 and dealt with social distance and stereotyping of Jews, Armenians, Americans and Arabs.

In 1973 he found that there was a personality change, meaning that the older generation of Armenians cared more about language, food and culture and the younger generation was more concerned with feeling. After he did his research, Der-Karabetian moved to Kansas and began studies for his doctorate in social psychology. There, he continued to study ethnic identity of Armenians.

He is now publishing a book that includes 35 years of his work and the “world-mindedness scale” he created.

“The world-mindedness scale is a frame of reference, or value orientation, favoring world-view of the problem of humanity with mankind rather than the nationals of a particular country as the primary reference groups,” Der-Karabetian said.

He said that he now knows that ethnic identity is comparative and context-bound.

He continued talking about what he has learned, and the audience nodded in agreement; when he began talking about racial stereotypes and the difference in ethnicities – what he called “the dark side” – the audience got quiet.

“The dark side is a sense of superiority over other groups, be they majority, minority or other ethnic/racial groups, which is exemplified by white supremacy groups, and the Nazi movement, but can also exist in any ethnic or racial group,” he said.

Marga Madhuri, professor of education, said the lecture inspired her. She said she loved when Der-Karabetian said we connect with other cultures and other people to learn about who we are.

“It really touched on things of my own journey, as we all are looking for our identity. I was raised in a Jewish family in a Christian society, but I wasn’t really cognizant that it was a Christian society until I went to Israel and saw a Jewish society,” she said. “I was 17 and that was my first real awareness of cultural differences and lifestyle differences.”

Sharon Davis, professor of sociology, worked with Der-Karabetian on the world-mindedness study after 9/11 to see how people were feeling about ethnic identities and geographical centrism. She said she believes that world-mindedness will always be important and relevant.

“9/11 represented a very dark experience in the lives of Americans and in the world. These atrocities, attacks, and in some cases genocides continue to happen and we get saber-rattling by some of the world leaders including our own, which has the potential to lead us to the brink of some of these behaviors that are cruel and destructive,” she said.

“World-mindedness is not going away. If the world is going to survive, world-mindedness needs to be learned and identified,” she said.

Der-Karabetian ended his last lecture with a photo of the planet. He said there are no lines on Earth, and your humanity is your home.

Shavonne Rogers can be reached at shavonne.rogers@laverne.edu.

Shavonne Rogers
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