Blog | Feb 21, 2013 | 0 Comments

The Importance of Cultural Humility

The majorities in our population are shifting, and our attitudes need to shift with them. Are you ready to listen, learn, and change?

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde

Yesterday, I attended a presentation at the monthly Association for Fundraising Professionals – Silicon Valley luncheon about “Donor Cultivation in a Multicultural World.” The speaker was Steve Lew, Senior Project Director for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and Director of the Fundraising Academy for Communities of Color. Over the past two years, I’ve done some learning and some work in multiculturalism and have written three blogs based on the work of Eric H. F. Law, who teaches about diversity and leadership. I mention this because the Steve’s talk was based on the same idea as Eric’s work.

Multiculturalism is not about “them,” it’s about us.

Yes. Even though the presentation description promised that we would “learn ways to cultivate relationships with donors and prospective donors of different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds,” Steve’s focus was not on teaching about various cultures or about fundraising tactics. It was on helping us understand that in order to remain relevant and to make connections (with donors or anyone else) in an increasingly multicultural world, we need to be open to changing ourselves.

Cultural competence is not enough.

Steve said there is a difference between intellectually knowing another culture (“cultural knowledge” or “cultural competence”) and being able to truly relate to it (“cultural humility”). As Steve explained, the concept came from the health care community, originally appearing in a paper by Drs. Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia. A summary of their paper describes cultural humility in this way:

[Cultural humility is] a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique. The starting point for such an approach is not an examination of the client’s belief system, but rather having health care/service providers give careful consideration to their assumptions and beliefs that are embedded in their own understandings and goals of their encounter with the client.

We all hold different ideas about various groups in our society. Rather than feel guilty about this, Steve suggested that we get to work on understanding our own assumptions and stereotypes. As an exercise, he asked us to break into groups of two and ask/answer these questions:

Those questions are often difficult for people of white/European descent whose families have been in the U.S. for many generations, because we often don’t have much ethnic identity left. But Steve explained that culture means much more than race or ethnicity. It also includes economic status, education, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation, geography, and much more. That gives us a lot of room for developing biases.

“Think inclusion” in all you do.

Cultural humility can be a key asset within extended families, workplaces, faith communities, neighborhoods, and just about every other arena in which we conduct our lives. In order to achieve it, we naturally need to seek more personal contact with people of other cultures. Steve urged us to reach out to ask questions, listen, and share your own experiences when asked. I would add that it helps to remember that these experiences are a gift you give yourself; they will help you become a more successful and well-rounded individual.

Your turn: how are you making meaningful connections across cultural divides?

P.S. If you’re interested, here are links to my previous blogs on multiculturalism and communication: What’s Your Communications Context?Respectful Communication Guidelines, and Three Things You Didn’t Know About Me

photo credit: Kennesaw State University via photopin cc

Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.

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