‘We see each other’s world upside down’

Prejudice is a necessary evil in life, but we need to be conscious of it by realizing that we all see each other’s worlds upside down. Says Chechen medical student Asja Malsagova.

A right approach to cultural diversity is essential, especially so in the medical profession where misunderstandings between patients and doctors can have serious repercussions.

Like many others nowadays I am blessed with the privilege of having been brought up with two cultures, the Dutch and my native one. I am a medical student and being part of a Chechen minority in the Netherlands, I feel I have a contribution to make.

Muslim patients

Though restricted to a mere two hour session, our curriculum does cover cultural diversity. In this session some prejudices came to surface, including my own. For example some students are sometimes somewhat unwilling to examine Muslim patients, because they fear they will make a problem of undressing for the physical examination. But I was happy to hear that they attested their fear had been in vain.

Now where did this prejudice come from? Or how is it that each time Western people mention Chechens or Muslims in general I am triggered to defend myself, even before they pass any kind of judgment?

One of my fellow students remarked that prejudice is useful; he compared it to the prejudice we have against snakes. Though they are not all dangerous, our animal instinct dictates to fear everyone of them to protect ourselves. I agree, people need to generalize to be able to function in this dynamic and confusing world. In that same session I showed my fellow students a video of a Chechen wedding to remind us how much fun cultural diversity can be.

Unwillingness to mix

Afterwards I knew I had put myself in a vulnerable position, because the questions which followed were a bit hurtful at times. A few of those questions concerned women being married off without their consent.  These questions originated from prejudice and I was hurt by its existence. But I know it does not have a malicious origin, but an ignorant one, for lack of knowing someone representing the culture in question.

At that moment I was that someone and it was important to answer these questions to resolve the prejudice. Because of the existing prejudice against minorities, the minorities develop prejudice against the majority, resulting in closure of communication. We need to prevent this by trying to remain open.

For  example when walking around in my faculty, you can’t help but notice foreign students to cluster  and sit together during classes and breaks. I do the same thing, but it is very natural for someone in an unknown environment to look for peers. All of us do it, but the majority can mistake it for unwillingness to mix and acquaint with its culture, which is not necessarily true.

This misunderstanding results in prejudice on one side leading to prejudice on the other side, tumbling down in a downward spiral, which is bound to explode one time or other.


I am convinced that, no matter our differences, we all have similar inner dwellings. In conflict we forget to communicate, we fight and crash not realizing the weights pressing us might just be the same. We are all alien to each other, everyone of us. Even two countrymen can fail to understand each other, though speaking the same language.

The truth is we all speak our own language. Let us take the map of the world, the way it has been agreed to be presented worldwide. What if half of the world’s population would have learned the map of the world upside down?

Now imagine this map lying on a table between doctor and patient. Inevitably one of them sees the ‘right’ map upside down. The doctor refers to Australia as ‘down under’ and the patient as ‘way up’. The beauty of it is both mean exactly the same thing, but they just learned to communicate it differently.

Necessary evil

I believe that were our thoughts released into the universe they would mix, the way most water based  fluids have the tendency to mix and become one. Prejudice is a necessary evil in life, but we need to be conscious of it by realizing that we all see each other’s worlds upside down.

This is not about to change, but identifying your prejudice before uttering it, is one step in the right direction. In spite of our prejudice let us share the joys of our cultures.

After also seeing the joyful reaction to that wedding video among my fellow students, I am happy I shared mine. Were I to be married tomorrow, they would be the first ones on my guest list.