Cultural Humility

Over the past several years, several of my colleagues and I have been studying the concept of cultural humility as it relates to our educational and service work both locally and globally. We desired a different way to examine our interactions and work with other groups not only abroad, but even within our own city. We began to ask the questions: Is it possible for one to become truly culturally competent? What does that look like? Does the terminology or frameworks we currently use limit our ability to collaborate on a deeper level with those from other cultures?

As we researched the term cultural humility, we found nothing like it in education, but did find some related ideas from the medical field. This idea of cultural humility originated within the medical field as practitioners realized they were ill-equipped to meet the needs of their patients without fully understanding their culture in concert with the treatment options. Thus, the main tenants of cultural humility challenge us to go deeper than the terminology we often see in education or other fields, that of cultural awareness, cultural competency, cultural intelligence, or cultural sensitivity.

By first recognizing the various aspects of culture, then adding the term humility to issues of culture, we can begin to see people and issues differently. By dissecting the word humility, we learn to take the focus off of ourselves and place it on others first. Our example of humility is already expressed through the life of Jesus. In Philippians 2: 1-11, the apostle Paul encourages the believer to imitate the humility of Christ. Paul writes in verses 3-4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others.” (From the Revised Standard Version) Humility should therefore be reflected in everything we do. Hopefully our insights into cultural humility will change and challenge our assumptions, perceptions, attitudes, and actions towards others in any culture anywhere. How then can we reflect the humility of Jesus in all we do? This is the main question as we continue our work in Kenya and other parts of the world.