Tag Archives: PracticingCulturalHumility

Practicing Cultural Humility: To Be a Better Listener

‘Listen as if the speaker is wise’: an apprach often proposed in spaces of cultural competence and humility to be a better listener. Bringing patience, humility, and imagination, the phrase challenges people to a new style of listening. This phrase brings me back to my college professors, with whom I would listen so closely that I would recognize the nuance in their lessons.

Opportunities to be a guest in another culture, or listen to someone talk about their mental health, are rare — They are scenarios that are lacking in the lives of most people in the United States. With success, a bridge will be built to fill the previously present gap of empathy.

To recognize ourselves as a guest in one of these scenarios is an opporutnity to close our mouths, and open our ears. In other words, we must not mistake an opportunity to learn as a circumstance of entitlement to learn. To do so (and make the mistake) would involve taking up space through the questions of interest to us. Rather, we need to listen to the information that is present in the moment.

For some, this might mean “trusting the process” or “having faith”. To me, it’s about putting my anxieties to the side and following the lead of someone else, ultimately arriving at their truth.

Practicing Cultural Humility: The Golden Rule

Growing up, I was always told, “Treat everyone like you want to be treated!” It’s quite a beautiful phrase because youth respond by treating eachother with respect: They act more curteous, they take turns, and they share their toys.

The Golden Rule or law of reciprocity is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself. It is a maxim of altruism seen in many religions and cultures.

Things change as we grow up. We learned a more specific version of respect from our parents. Should the guest help clean up after dinner? What if the guest offers to help and we say no, should they insist and help? Should guests make themselves at home once they enter your house, or must we invite them to sit down. Things might be different than what we’re used to, in another person’s home.

My grandma will always offer me food, and bring it to me after I say ‘no thank you’. This is a Persian norm called ‘Taarof’. She also won’t let me clean the table up. Other cultures are different. I’ve been to dinner at my friend’s house, who expects me to clean up, even if they say they don’t want help.

We need to broaden our  minds to transform “treat everyone like you want ot be treated,” to “make efforts to understand others the way you want to be understood”. This is the culturally humble version of the Golden Rule.


Practicing Cultural Humility: Person First Language

What’s wrong with saying, “a disabled person” or “the disabled”? We need to detach people from their experiences to say: people or a person “with disabilities.” Put the person first. A disability is what someone has, not what someone is. For instance, “mentally ill” is less respectful than “person with mental-health issues.”

Person-first language challenges the way that we attach meaning, or stigma, to peoples’ identities.

Last week, San Mateo County conducted its biennial “One Day Homeless Count”. There is a very important distinction we need to make: The people we want to help are not without a home — San Mateo is their home. What they are is “unhoused”, not “homeless”.

For many, the word “homeless” conjures up an array of negative sterotypes: someone who is shiftless, dishonest, and untrustworthy. I want all of us to challenge those stigmas and begin to say, “a person who is unhoused”, instead of “homeless people”.

This empowering shift will function to humanize an important and present part of our community, 1,722 of us, that is often treated otherwise.

Practicing Cultural Humility: CBPR and Photovoice

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) is a practice that pulls straight from the notion that people with lived experience have expertise to offer. CBPR functions as a method by which we can institutionally ‘listen’ to marginalized communities and, with their permission, compile their stories as evidence in research. In CBPR, researchers partner with communities to identify and combat issues. Ultimately, it is a more equitable method of research and advocacy because it is guided by community members’ lived experience. It’s just one method of acknowledging lived experience as expertise.

Photovoice is a great tool for CBPR. Photovoice is a process by which people can identify, represent, and enhance their community through photography. Final projects exhibit a single-page layout of a photo and short written piece.

In their article, “Photovoice: Addressing youths’ concerns in a juvenile detention facility”, Jenna Osseck et al. write about a program in which youth had the opportunity to share their feedback on the center and its programming. “Youth documented the following strengths: family was valued whether or not the relationship was healthy; the center’s structure added stability; participants’ talents helped them cope; and staff were supportive.” 

This juvenile detention facility fostered a space in which youth were able to advocate for improvements to their facility, as well as their own outcomes, through CBPR. What if we all did that with our work?

Practicing Cultural Humility: Lived Experience is Expertise

In most areas, having gone through something repeatedly before allows you to speak with some degree of expertise, such as having completed a race, or traveled to a certain city, or having done certain tasks at work.

Why is it that while in many areas of life, having gone through an experience or repeated a task many times gives one some degree of competence on an issue, but when it comes to mental health and going through treatment and recovery, having experience doesn’t equate to expertise? Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, people with mental health challenges are often dismissed, minimized, or not believed when they share their experiences and knowledge. It’s time to reframe lived experience as expertise. People with lived experience understand the challenges of navigating services, receiving treatment, and living with mental health issues better than anyone. As community leaders and service providers, we have the opportunity to tap into this expertise, to learn from the ones who truly know what mental health issues are like and what can help.

Author, Christopher Emdin, shares similar thoughts of this approach and applies it to the teacher-student relationship: “I think framing this hero teacher narrative, particularly for folks who are not from these communities, is problematic. The model of a hero going to save this savage other is a piece of a narrative that we can trace back to colonialism; it isn’t just relegated to teaching and learning.”

At a more interpersonal level, we can open our ears to create space for people with lived experience by shifting our personal lenses from ‘helping’ to ‘partnering’, as it will create space for those with lived experience to step forward.

This post is co-written by Mai Le and Siavash Zohoori.

Practicing Cultural Humility: Pronouncing Names Correctly

It was my first day of elementary school and the teacher took roll for the first time. As she called my name, I raised my hand, just like the rest of the boys and girls sitting around me. That morning stuck out to me because it was the first time someone besides my mother and father had said my name, and they said it wrong. It became so normal to me that I began calling myself see-uh-vosh by the end of the year. As a young boy, and along with many others with foreign names, I anglicized my name so that my classmates would have an easier time pronouncing my name. Everyone else tried to give me a nickname when they heard how difficult my name is to pronounce. I thought, ‘now I don’t have to repeat my name so many times to help other people pronounce it!’

It wasn’t until recently that I realized I went through this process of anglicizing my name, because I thought it was the normal thing to do: I just wanted to fit in. After all, my cousins did it too.

In a post titled  “How We Pronounce Students’ Names and Why It Matters,” Gonzalez shares his opinions on what it means to mispronounce someone’s name, “Whether you intend to or not, what you’re communicating is this: Your name is different. Foreign. Weird. It’s not worth my time to get it right.”

When someone messes up our names or never bothers to learn the right way to say it, it’s disrespectful. When, on the other hand, we take the time to get someone’s name right, we honor them. When we tell yourself that we’re just “bad with names,” we’re telling others that we don’t care to learn more about them.

We all have the opporutnity to honor those around us by pronouncing our collegues’ names correctly.

I’m going to introduce myself as SYA-vash from now on, and you should too. Just kidding, but you know what I mean!


Practicing Cultural Humility: Inclusive Language

To continue our ‘Practicing’ series, exploring how ODE practices our values in our everyday lives, this post will explore the power of language. (Click here to view our previous post on cultural humility.)

Our society often unconsciously creates and perpetuates stereotypes, but these stereotypes lead to unfair discrimination and persecution when the stereotype is unfavorable. That being said, both, benevolent and hostile forms of prejudice are harmful. 

As a solution, inclusive language is language that is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups. It is also language that doesn’t deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from being seen as part of a group.

There are multiple kinds of inclusive language: gender inclusive, mental health inclusive, sexual orientation inclusive, ethnicity inclusive, etc. Each iteration reflects on the power of kindness, positive intention, and inclusion.

We often say phrases like “wow, that’s crazy!”, “hey guys!”, and some people still say “that’s so gay!”. Although the message of each phrase is based on a stereotype or affiliation, each phrase attempts to say something valid. By a simple shift in our language, we may change those phrases to “wow, that’s bazaar!”, “hey y’all!”, and maybe something like “that’s so radical!”. Here’s a link to 100 things to say instead of “That’s so gay”.

We have the opportunity to shift our language and take the extra step to ensure that everyone feels included and truly valued.

Practicing Cultural Humility: Everyday Interactions

How do you act when you are a guest in someone’s home? What about in the workplace?

When it comes to working with the community, ODE really values cultural competence and cultural humility. We try to embody it in our work, as well as in our lives. I asked ODE, “How do you practice cultural humility?” Here’s what they had to say:

  • I practice cultural humility by reflecting on my own biases and assumptions I make even if they’re thoughts or something I said/actions. By reflecting, I think about why I have those biases or assumptions.
  • I practice cultural humility by asking my clients what their challenges are instead of making assumptions based on my personal knowledge.
  • When someone does something I find “rude” I try to remember that manners are cultural, not universal. They don’t just differ by ethnicity, but by gender, age, and SES [socioeconomic status] too. This lets me give them the benefit of the doubt rather than getting really annoyed in these brief interactions. For example, when people ask questions I find too personal, or at the opposite end, when people make no effort at small talk.
  • I try to practice cultural humility everywhere I go. Whenever I talk to someone, I always try to remind myself that I am a guest in their life. So if they want to talk about something, I am grateful they are opening their doors to me and I listen and follow.
  • Whenever I meet someone new, I try to listen as much as I can. Everyone has different backgrounds and experiences, so if they’re willing to share, it helps me learn a little more about them, and about our community.

Thank you for reading this. We hope that you may take one of these and practice them in your life.