On cultural humility

My professional work is facilitating health equity of late. It’s been interesting to learn about some of the barriers individuals experience in receiving equity.

An area of discussion is cultural competency, but I’m of the opinion that competency is an arrival at a specified place. Being culturally humble is more in keeping with the theme of working well together. My personal definition is that I cannot walk around assuming my experience, or culture, is superior to that of others, nor can I assume that everyone has had the same opportunities.

Monday I attended a training sponsored by The (Oregon Health & Science) University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Carol French of Figure 8 Consulting facilitated the training, and it was very well done.

One of the first points Carol made is that we all have bias. The first piece of information our brain tells us about others is ethnicity. Second is gender, with age being third. We must acknowledge that our brains function in this manner and work to filter our reactions and judgments in a positive manner.

She provided a diagram to understand the numerous filters we use:

cultural selfie

These filters play an important role in the assumptions we make about life in general. Please note that M.S.U. means we Make Stuff Up.


Depending upon how stressed we are and other factors, we are quite capable of making  bad decisions which we will later regret.

Carol showed us a film Jon Chu created as a student at USC’s film school, Silent Beats. With no narration, the movie had the audience appreciating the complexity of the internal mechanisms involved with cultural humility.

It would be easy to beat up ourselves over our bad assumptions and response behaviors, but empathy goes a long way toward making the world a better place. We must be empathetic toward others, but also practice empathy toward ourselves.

Brene Brown has a powerful animated video on the difference between empathy and sympathy.

In the end, perhaps the greatest lesson is we are all human. The world would be a better place if we acknowledged our own humanity and that of others.

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