Over the years workplaces and communities have become diverse in culture and identity and many of us that work and live among those from different cultures have some basic understanding of the cultural values and beliefs of others. However, throughout the years of my research, community assessments and 25 + years of working in a variety of New York City social service agencies I have discovered that……
To be most effective in services it is important to gain an in-depth understanding of the person’s identity and how it is shaped as this will offer tools for even greater understanding to who they are and how the culture in which they were raised helped shape their identity while at the same time build a level of trust and tap into our own culture, values and beliefs to relate more effectively across cultures.
As human beings, we are not immune from getting caught-up in our own values which can easily be unconsciously or subconsciously forced onto others. When this happens we allow ourselves to believe that others share our causes or are acting and speaking in ways that aligns with our values and beliefs. Most times this is not the case, but our belief system channels us in ways that make it hard to identify our own values from those held by other cultures.
In hindsight, we know that the American culture respects direct eye contact, so for those that are born and raised in this culture live by this belief and take on the belief that whenever a person does not give eye contact they are not trust-worthy. The exception to this belief is only when that person wears some religious attire that represents they are of a certain culture. As Americans we readily accept that as such, but what happens when a person does not have on that attire? Our belief system kicks in and we go off our own values and belief of how we think the person should behave.
This certainly calls for clarity in understanding our own culture, values and belief system and learning the cultural characteristics of others around us for best outcomes in our services as providers, professional relationships and relationships with neighbors in our communities.
This practice takes time, I find it almost impossible for one to master this skill overnight or attempt to provide a service to those outside of their culture and/or in communities they are unfamiliar with.
I shared an article on my Face Book page written by Sondra Thiederman entitled: Mirror Image: Know Your Own Culture to Understand Others. In her article, she captures the same perspectives as myself which I found to be a good read. Below are some useful tips that she offered.
So, if knowing one’s own culture is not automatic, how can we achieve this knowledge? The answer lies in exposure and observation. First, be around other cultures. The next step is impossible without the opportunity to interact with those who are different from you. Second, when around people from different cultures, watch for three things: moments of tension, misunderstanding and anger.
When one of these happens, don’t panic. Observe yourself and your culture. What did you do just before the tension, misunderstanding or anger arose? That act is part of your culture and was probably a factor in the moment’s dynamic. What you did was not necessarily wrong, but be aware it grew out of your culturally conditioned values and behaviors. Also, ask yourself: “What assumption was I making about the situation before the negativity started?” Those assumptions, like your behavior, grew out of your culture. Examining them will help awaken the cultural self-awareness that is so important in making cross-cultural relationships work. Yes, knowledge of other cultures is important, but looking at ourselves can teach us as much about cross-cultural understanding as all the anthropology books in the world.