5 Ways to Increase Cultural Sensitivity

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Having just returned from a trip to Peru last week, there’s been a lot on my mind as far as cultural sensitivity and diversity awareness. There’s nothing quite like going to a place in which the culture is completely different from yours to shift your perspectives and ideas about what the world is like. We become so accustomed to our bubbles of comfort. Yes, poverty and homelessness are a huge problem in America, however most privileged people choose to ignore or overlook it when they have their basic necessities met. We don’t think twice about access to fresh water, fresh fruits/vegetables, a clean bathroom, $5 to spare for our almond-milk lattes, access to internet and wifi. We may give a homeless person a few bucks every once in a while or donate to charities, but we are so far removed from what it’s truly like to have to survive.

While I was sitting with my friend in a restaurant there, we had a discussion about the people of Peru. I mentioned something I’d noticed about the vendors on the streets. In the cities of Peru, you can’t go 5ft without somebody offering their services to you, whether it’s a restaurant, a massage, a piece of art. Everybody has something to offer. And in the Peruvian countryside, everybody is doing their part to help the family. The children are running chores, the women are carrying huge bags of quinoa and their babies in colorful blankets on their backs, the men wake up at 3am every day to drive buses full of tourists. I told my friend that while the Peruvian people are generally very poor, most of them seem to be happy. Maybe, she said, but I’m sure they’d give everything to be in your position. Noted. We simply can’t know the story of another person whether they’re in a completely different country or in the house down the street.

What I think I mean by this happiness I noticed, is that they have a sense of gratitude, warmth, and simplicity. This is something I’ve always been drawn to in Latin American cultures. The people value quality time with one another. They work hard without complaint to provide for their families. And everybody is considered family. Every time I step into a room full of Latin American people, I immediately feel welcome. Because we are all family. We are all human beings. And I’m not going to say no to a room full of smiling faces, playing latin music, dancing, and offering to cook me a warm meal.

So many people go on trips to 3rd world countries hoping to help the people there whether on mission trips or service trips of some kind. Of course this is great, but what we need to realize is that going to other countries is a journey of self discovery. We are helping ourselves as much, if not more than those of lower socioeconomic status. The best way to understand and become culturally competent is to travel and be placed in other cultures themselves. This may not be the most comfortable feeling, but international experiences help widen our frame of reference and humble us as people. Providing healthcare, resources, and education to communities of need doesn’t mean trying to change a person’s culture, but rather to immerse in that culture and understand what is meaningful to them.

I think many of us have this idea in our minds that we need to change others. We need to change viewpoints that are different from our own, we need to give people more jobs and money, we need to fix problems, heal broken hearts and mend mental states, and we need to do it now because we want immediate gratification. What we don’t realize is that the best thing we can do is look within our own selves and Opening our minds and relaxing into ideas that are different from our own will find us all happiness and peace in the end. While traveling to other countries is a great way to humble ourselves to cultural differences, there is diversity everywhere. Every single person you meet is going to have a different experience of the world, how they were raised, their own values, traditions, roles, routines, etc.

Cultural Sensitivity: being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value – positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong

5 Ways to Increase Cultural Sensitivity:

Awareness

Awareness of your differences and awareness of your privileges especially. We are all unique individuals who have completely different experiences of the world. I am a white female from an upper middle-class family therefore it was much easier for me to go to college and choose a job I wanted because education was valued in my family. I am going to have a much different experience from a black female who grew up raising her 5 siblings because her mom was working 3 jobs trying to provide for the family. Awareness that people who didn’t grow up with your privileges have to work 10x harder to get to where you are will give you perspective. And will also give you respect. Damn it’s hard to be a black person in this world.

Gratitude

I talked about this a little bit already, but there was definitely a sense of gratitude by the people of Peru. Want to know the number one way to boost your mood in a hurry? Think of 5 things you are grateful for. Even if it sounds lame or if it’s simple things in your immediate surroundings. I’m grateful for my boyfriend’s cat (oh and my boyfriend too), I’m grateful to have a roof over my head, I’m grateful that I have some time off to be writing this blog post, I’m grateful to have had the experience of going to Peru, I’m grateful for my legs because they carried me on many long hikes. Whatever you are going through there is always something to be grateful for. And it’s virtually impossible to experience gratitude and anger/fear at the same time.

Mirroring

This one is slightly more complicated. We are all reactional beings. We all make judgements and first impressions and get defensive about things and seek validation from time to time. But have you ever thought about the reaction you have to somebody as a mirror of something going on inside yourself? When I first heard of this concept, it was like a lightbulb going off inside my head. The reaction we have to something is a direct correlation to something we’ve experienced in the past that we need to work through. People are saying things all the time that we’re completely unphased by, but then somebody says or does something and we immediately want to punch them in the face. People come into our lives for a reason. The next time you’re irked by the guy talking loudly on his cell phone at the table next to you, take a moment to figure out what it is you need to work on. Maybe you are loud and obnoxious at times and don’t like this about yourself. Or maybe it’s just an opportunity to practice patience. And this goes for people that are positive influences in your life as well. Next time you run into a person that you idealize and think is the coolest person ever, remember that they are just mirroring the traits that are inside of yourself just waiting to be released to the world.

Curiosity

Be like the most interesting man in the world and stay curious my friends. There are many things in this world that are different from what you’re used to, that take you out of your comfort zone and make you feel squeamish or want to run in the opposite direction. Instead of placing judgement on something or someone, why not get to know that thing or person better, ask questions, be informed. The next time you see somebody with tattoos all over their face instead of placing immediate judgement as to why they would do something like that, stay calm and ask yourself “hmm, I wonder what inspired something so drastic? I wonder what their story is?” Changing the language within ourselves and staying curious rather than judgemental will not only turn us into kinder individuals, we might learn a thing or two we didn’t know before!

Equality

Remember the golden rule? Treat others as you’d like to be treated? We were all born into this world as human beings. We are all from a long line of ancestors going back to the beginning of time (and we all go back to Africa!). Why would there be some humans that are more entitled to a better life than others? Power causes chaos, government corruption, war. Everybody could benefit from taking a step back, surrendering, and being humbled by treating others with equal respect. Kindness matters. And karma is real.

Amelia BallComment