Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cultural Humility

Last week I co-facilitated a session on Cultural Competency with Raquel Gutierrez for the SLHI HNK Consultants Community of Practice. I’ve been thinking about the issue a lot for the last few weeks between preparing for the session, being greeted with enthusiasm and interest from our colleagues during the session, and reflecting after the session.

We invited the community to use the blog to write about the issues that came up during the session. I decided to start it off.

One of the ideas that people really liked was the concept of cultural humility. This is written about on the Partnerships For Older Adults Web Page. They talk about the distinction between cultural competency and cultural humility. Here is what they have to say about cultural humility in community partnerships.
“Cultural Humility in Community Partnerships

Consider this example of cultural humility in action: at a partnership meeting, a member might see an older African-American man walk in. She might identify and try to understand the older gentleman from a racial or cultural perspective. However, this man might think of himself as a retired teacher, a deacon in his church or another kind of community leader, or as a caregiver to an ailing sister or troubled grandchild. By approaching every person with cultural humility, the partnership member will be better able to understand how this man feels about different aspects of the partnership, and where his feelings, opinions and concerns come from.

This approach (Cultural Humility) eliminates the need for every person in the partnership to master knowledge of group values and beliefs for every racial, ethnic and cultural component of the community. It calls for an attitude of openness to receiving new information and new perspectives on a regular basis.

A partnership leader observing this situation might practice an attitude of openness by:
• including time in the partnership meeting for all participants to share how their personal experiences and values are relevant to the issues at hand;
• seeking opportunities to speak one-to-one with the elder African-American community leader about his goals and concerns in remaining active in the partnership;
• building a working collaboration with professionals of color in the partnership in thinking of ways to maximize the participation of all elders who come to meetings; and
• taking a minute to notice her own response to the older gentleman mentioned above, exploring the actual information he has as the basis for his feelings.

An attitude of openness is demonstrated by the internal process an individual is willing to go through, how this is expressed to others, and careful attention to the organization and content of partnership events.”
If you want to read more click on the following link.

This concept of cultural humility spurred some great discussions in our Community of Practice, about how cultural humility could be useful in all situations -- not just when we think we are going to be interacting with someone or a group that is “different” from us.

I often use a set of Zen cards by Daniel Levin with groups. The Humility Card has this wisdom – The way of the earth is to empty that which is full. And fill that which is empty. True humility brings great fortune.

When I first read this, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. As time went on, I began to think that the message from this card was to be open. To approach people from a position of openness allows learning to take place.

This reminds me of the concept of the beginners mind. If we bring a beginners mind to our work, we are open to learning. What if the best results are only possible if we as consultants collaborate with our clients -- by joining our knowledge with theirs through cultural humility. Would this then transcend from cultural humility to a culture of humility?

In the new book Embracing Cultural Competency A Roadmap for Nonprofit Capacity Builders recently published by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management and Fieldstone Alliance, there is a story about an Asian American woman who brought a different interpretation of leadership to her work. At first her leadership was not understood and was judged to be “poor” leadership. When she articulated the value of her leadership to her boss and employees – people began to understand things differently. One of her leadership strengths was humility. What do you think?

Cassandra at

No comments: