The difference between you and me is that I know what I am thinking. I know where I have been, and where I plan on heading. I know, most of the time, how I feel despite not being able to express it well. You, on the other hand, could have come from anywhere.
We had a long group discussion on cultural competency today, which I found to be eye-opening in a respect completely different from most people in our class. We talked about expanding our knowledge of other cultures by reading books, meeting new people, volunteering in locations that we would otherwise not go to, blah blah blah. I was shocked to find such ignorance in what my peers were saying. I do admit, though, this ignorance could be directly related to naivety. But I wouldn’t know, because I am not them.
People talked about having friends from various cultures. They shared uncomfortable moments they had during a wide array of experiences. We recognized that we should go out of our comfort zone to further our cultural diversity experiences, and we discussed the internalization that is required to truly gain from times such as these. Our class reflected that our actions are not necessarily perceived as they were intended. How could we know what you were thinking?
Yes, all of those things are true. However, I feel as though a vital piece of our discussion is missing. To know one person is to know one person. It is not knowing a culture. To immerse yourself in a new culture for a day, a week, a month, is to flip through a history book in 20 minutes. Did you learn? Undoubtedly so. If you look back at the same pages, could you learn more? Sure. Do you know that culture, that language, those customs? Not a chance.
“But,” you say, “but I had an open mind! I reflected, I didn’t judge, and I treated a person as a person. I learned. I am always learning.” Did you forget, my friend? You only know in certainty your experiences. And those experiences are interpreted in a vast number of ways by others who experienced similar, or even identical, events.
Cultural competency isn’t about seeing the differences and reacting appropriately. Cultural competency is recognizing there are not differences that separate people, but understanding that our differences bring us together, even if disguised as being conflicting ideas.
How does one teach that? How do we get a firm grasp on an idea that is so vague? An even more difficult perspective: How do we implement into our daily lives a concept that is so vague?
The answer: We don’t. Even if we grapple with the idea of becoming culturally competent, we inadvertently become selfishly wrapped into our own comfortable experiences that are so commonplace we expect other people to think similarly, to act similarly, and to react similarly. Adding to that notion, in my experiences, I have been told to fight for what is right. I have been told to fight for what I believe in. I have been told not to let anyone change who I am, because I am perfect the way I am. I don’t know about you, but I find this is to be a cesspool breeding ground for ignorance and hate. If I fight for what is right, I may be fighting with the Taliban. I may be fighting for the red, white, and blue. If I fight for what I believe in, I may implement laws pertaining to eugenics in hopes of destroying entire races. I may fight for keeping individuals of color off buses. I may be fighting for gay marriage. I may be fighting in the name of Muhammad. If I am perfect the way I am, and have no flaws to change, I am not looking at what others do well.
While you may argue that my examples are extreme, I may agree. I may even be trying to prove a point. Where is the line drawn separating extreme from not extreme? Would you draw the same line as I would? If I were on the other side of the line, where would I have to stand for you to become defensive or even intervene in some way? Is there a point where you stood that I would consider using my constitutional right to free speech or bear arms or my god given right to shun you and wish you to hell? Is there a point where we might drop both you would drop your defense and offense simultaneously? Maybe, but I am me and you are you. You could have come from anywhere.
Have you heard me? Have you heard me at all?
Have you changed? Have you changed at all?