In the past, we’ve talked about cultural humility. Broadly speaking, cultural humility is acknowledging our own biases while respectfully opening up to other possibilities and ways of being, particularly as it relates to cultural backgrounds different than our own. In other words, by practicing cultural humility we recognize that we’re fallible beings who cannot know everything about other cultures and people. This recognition creates the possibility of learning and growing through our interactions with other people. It also means that we never stop learning.
It’s easy to understand why cultural humility is a great practice in volunteer work as we get introduced to people and situations that we wouldn’t otherwise. Further, it helps provide a space of empathy for others, and directly addresses the power imbalance which caused the need for said volunteer work. However, cultural humility is also an important practice in our day-to-day interactions. A great example of this is the practice of cultural humility at work! Here’s why:
It normalizes not knowing.
No one knows everything. Even if you’re a specialist within your field, there will always be gaps in your knowledge, and we should recognize that that’s OK. What’s more, if you’re the head of a group of people, it’s a good idea to have the people under you comfortable with the idea of not knowing. People shouldn’t feel the need to pretend to know in order to appear competent. Not knowing doesn’t mean that you’re not intelligent or that you don’t have the skills you need for the task at hand. It only means that you’re encountering a situation that you’ve never encountered before, or at least not recently enough to remember. The lack of knowledge is one of the conditions that you need to grow, and it’s central to the practice of cultural humility. If we recognize that the culture that shaped us can only teach us to much, we can then recognize that there’s much more unknown than known.
It helps you identify with your co-workers.
Regardless of how much we try to make it otherwise, there will always be a power dynamic between co-workers. There will always be someone whose social and cultural practices accepted to a greater or lesser degree than yours. There will also be people from different ethnicities, cultures, genders, and inclinations which follow the perceived cultural normativity to a greater or lesser extent than yours. Recognizing this will make us able to challenge these dynamics and create a more welcoming space for everyone. Further, it’ll help us understand that people around us are multi-dimensional and complicated and that we may not know or understand the realities that made them who they are.
It helps you identify the needs of your client.
Everyone’s experiences are different! By recognizing that your point of view of what’s needed doesn’t necessarily coincide with your client’s, you can better work on providing your client with a satisfiable solution. This step might seem unnecessary as your client might not know what they want or need, but it’ll still provide you with a valuable tool for understanding your client. By giving your client the means to be seen and heard, you can better understand them, and, by extension, their product. In having a better understanding of these things, you’ll be in a unique position to both help your client and have them better understand what you can do for them.
It creates a culture of understanding that can spread beyond work.
When we understand that the experiences and needs of people we interact with are valid, it becomes easier to spread this point of view to other aspects of our life. Suddenly, we’ll be able to understand that although we might not be able to change everyone’s world for the better, we can provide them with the space and tools to do have a better life. We’ll be able to understand how we can best use our experiences and talents to help others while being open to learning from them. In fact, it’ll probably make us want to help others whose experiences divert from our own as we acknowledge the power imbalances that repress them. This is where Caritas Smile can help.
As an organization with deep ties with the communities we serve, we’re aware and respectful of the differences between us and the people we strive to help. We endeavor to respect these differences and give you the space as a volunteer to learn from them. Our awareness also allows us, and you, to be respectful, mindful and ever learning while providing the means for these communities to grow and empower themselves. If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, we recommend that you look into our upcoming trips to the Dominican Republic and Honduras, or to contact us to learn more about us and our work.
Talia Velez is a Growth Impact Officer at Caritas Smile, a non-profit service travel program dedicated to making positive impacts and sustainable changes for women and children in developing countries. Having grown up in Mexico, Talia is keenly aware of the day-to-day issues faced by women and children in countries with more economic vulnerability. Visit our site to learn more about Caritas Smile and join us in our mission to help those in need.