Building Capacity for Cultural Competence #3: Acknowledgement

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2As we build our capacity for cultural diversity, we move from Assessment (where do I stand? how do I act? what do I believe?) to Awareness (this is where I stand, this is how I act, this is what I believe). This helps us to discover the root behind a lot of our cultural disconnects: fear. Fear is a powerful set of emotions that simultaneously drives us in circles, paralyzes us, and causes us to react without seeing the whole picture. Fear leaves us feeling powerless, and urges us to act out of that powerlessness to restore a comfortable level of power and control. Fear of others drives much of the conflict around the world, whether it be war, racial/ethnic tensions, family dysfunction, or conflict in a boardroom or organization. 

In her latest post, Sandra Quick explains that fear of others often comes from ignorance of who they are, and that the appropriate response to that fear is to engage in lifelong learning to overcome the ignorance - even the ignorance dressed in what we think we know. In our increasingly global culture, can we learn enough about others, on an ongoing basis, that we can look at other cultures and not be afraid, even if we disagree? Are we unafraid because we have pushed others so far away they can't touch us, or are we unafraid because we engage so deeply that we know the "other" well enough to work through difficulties that arise?

Sandra's post did evoke fear in me - fear where I was short on knowledge of the "other." It caused me to want to go back and look at my own SELF-Assessment to take things to the next level. I would encourage you, if you haven't already, to take the SELF-Assessment. Sandra is offering a 30-minute free consultation to go over the results. I have found her to be quite helpful in seeing these results in a constructive light. Read the post, and take the Assessment!

Take A Cultural Comptetence SELF-Assessment

+Matt Thomas



By Sandra Quick: I am a Lady, an African American, 10 months from Medicare, two biscuits shy a full ton, dyed-in-the- wool American Baptist who practices yoga.  Here I am at Brio Spa at Grand Luxxe Riviera Maya in Cancun Mexico in 2011.  The asana (pose)  is the “tree pose” with hands at heart center. Ommmmm. Does this sound subversive or destabilizing to you? For me, yoga is peaceful.

Yet, here’s what some of my friends and family say to me, “Yoga? Really, yoga? Isn’t that an Eastern religion? And why in the world did YOU start practicing yoga? Isn’t your Pastor worried you’ll bring those crazy pagan worshiping ideas into your Sunday School class?” Some of my folks don’t know much about yoga and don’t want to know. They want to believe what they have always believed and not hear the truth.  Not knowing about, or being afraid of the influences of other cultures, religions, food, traditions or practices, is not a new phenomenon.  This ignorance is centuries old. Remember the witch hunts in Salem Massachusetts?  

A recent headline in the Science section of my local newspaper read, “Polish ‘vampire’ threat hit close of home.” The article reported:

      In 17th - and 18th- century Poland, the fear of vampires was so strong that some people were buried with sickles across their necks and rocks at their jaws to keep them from rising from the grave and attacking the living.  Written records suggested that these dead were stigmatized because they were immigrants. But a new study in the journal PLOS One contradicts that idea. The researchers excavated six bodies from so-called vampire graves in north-western Poland and compared the decay of radioactive strontium isotopes in the corpses’ dental enamel to that of local animals and found similar ratios, suggesting that it was unlikely the supposed vampires had come from outside the area. Instead, researchers said they might have been the first in the community to die from cholera, a disease spread through contaminated drinking water. The disease was attributed to the supernatural and people were thought to return from the dead to spread it.

The_Third_Level_of_Cultural_CompetenceThey killed their own people out of ignorance. How do you combat ignorance? How do you build capacity for cultural competence? Knowledge is power.  This wisdom is also centuries old.

The phrase, knowledge is power, is often attributed to Francis Bacon, in his Meditationes Sacrae (1597). Thomas Jefferson used the phrase at least twice. In his letter to a friend, he confides his despair of his compatriots’ ignorance of the significance of the present challenge. Jefferson  writes:

"this last establishment will probably be within a mile of Charlottesville, and four from Monticello, if the system should be adopted at all by our legislature who meet within a week from this time, my hopes however are kept in check by the ordinary character of our state legislatures, the members of which do not generally possess information enough to perceive the important truths, that knowledge is power, that knowledge is safety, and that knowledge is happiness." - Thomas Jefferson to George Ticknor, 25 November 1817

Tavis Smiley’s PBS show is “a unique hybrid of news, issues and entertainment, featuring interviews with politicians, entertainers, athletes, authors and other newsmakers. Tavis Smiley was named to TIME’s list of 100 “Most Influential People in the World.” Tavis clarifies,

We give you the facts. I told you information is power - knowledge is power. We can't be in an ideological battle to redeem the soul of this country if we don't have the facts.

The fact is that yoga is spiritual, not religious. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline that aims to transform body and mind. The term yoga is derived from the literal meaning of "yoking together" a span of horses or oxen, but came to be applied to the "yoking" of mind and body. I practice yoga to balance my life with work, to breath with movements, to connect my thoughts with my soul.  

Do you know the truth about yoga, about vampires, about other cultures’ food, language, traditions, and celebrations that are different from you own?  Are you afraid/ignorant of these differences? Or do you want to know more and become a lifelong learner. Knowledge is power. Don’t sit on your hands. Acknowledge you need more knowledge. Click on the Cultural Competence Self-Assessment to find what you know and what you don’t know.

In yoga, the gesture Namaste  (nah-məs-tay) represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra (or, as Westerners might understand it, soul). The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

I write this post to build capacity by providing a “how to” to frequently encountered cultural dilemmas in order to introduce you to my Building Capacity for Cultural Competence model. Learning to Acknowledge is an exercise on the third level of building capacity for cultural competence.  The first level is Assessment. The second level is Awareness. More specifically I define the third level of capacity building as:

Acknowledgement: Understanding that, to achieve cultural competence, each one of us must acknowledge the need to be lifelong learners. No one can become complacent.

Want to know more? Click the "Take a Self-Assessment" button in the column to the right!

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Sandra Quick,, Cultural Awareness, Cultural competence,, cultural self-assessment, #BlackLivesMatter, Acknowledgement, Assessment, Awareness