Making A Commitment

Happy New Year! Although I am not one who makes many New Year’s Resolutions, I did commit to write at least one article every month in 2019. One of the reasons I want to write more is due to the current climate in our country. It seems to me that we are living in difficult and dangerous times. Our responses to cultural differences are deeply dividing our nation. Since the presidential election, our country is witnessing a dramatic rise in hate crimes (Click here to read more) and teachers are reporting an increase in bullying (Click here to read more). It seems that overt prejudice is becoming more normative and socially acceptable with each passing day. I am deeply troubled and heartbroken by these trends. I want to help ease the tensions and increase the amount of respect we have for each other. In short, I believe that we need to talk about culture more than ever.

In the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, let’s talk about concrete actions you can take in 2019 that will help bring more understanding, respect, and love into the world. I encourage you to commit to doing at least one activity that will increase your cultural competence every month, if not every week. If you want to think about it another way, make a commitment to look out new windows in the New Year.

Below is a list of small steps you can take that will, hopefully, push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to expand your understanding of your own culture, as well as other cultures. If you need a reminder, read Dimensions of Culture and Additional Cultural Dimensions to help you think about culture in a more inclusive and expansive way.

Action Steps to Begin or Continue on Your Cultural Competence Journey

  1. Read literature about and written by different cultural groups.
  2. Shop at ethnic stores and dine at ethnic restaurants.
  3. Watch foreign language movies or watch a movie with no sound and only use closed captions.
  4. Find a way to be in the minority. If you have the resources and opportunities, travel to areas where you can immerse yourself in another culture.
  5. Attend festivals and events that celebrate specific cultural groups, such as art galleries, theaters, dance companies, museums, libraries, music groups, and places of worship.
  6. Volunteer at a non-profit organization that serves a diverse population.
  7. Read newspapers, magazines, websites, and other educational resources that are dedicated to specific cultural groups.
  8. Get involved with an organization that works for social justice.
  9. Reach out to someone from a different cultural group.

It is better to think of these steps as a journey, rather than a destination. Doing any (or all) of these activities will not help you arrive at a fully-developed sense of cultural competence. Becoming culturally competent takes a lifetime. However, these action steps can get you started or help keep you moving.

As Lao Tzu wisely stated, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I look forward to embarking on this journey together and hearing how these activities helped change the way you see the world and others around you.

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Ingroups and Outgroups

In my last post, I used the words majority and minority. As we examine different dimensions of culture, there are also different majority and minority groups. These terms refer to the number of people who fit into a certain demographic group, but these terms may not always be accurate. For example, although men are considered the majority gender group in the United States, women slightly outnumber men (51% to 49%). Another example is Christians; while they are the religious majority in our country, they are a minority religion across the globe.

Rather than use the terms majority and minority, I prefer the terms ingroup and outgroup. Outgroups are cultural groups that are disenfranchised, exploited, and victimized in a variety of ways by the social structure. Ingroups are dominant cultural groups that are privileged by birth or acquisition, who knowingly or unknowingly, reap an unfair advantage over members of the outgroup.

To put this in an apolitical context, we can look at handedness. If you are right handed, you can go day to day without ever considering your dominant hand. It’s something that you probably don’t think about often, if at all. However, people who are left handed are forced to think about it more than you may realize.

For example, most public computer stations are set up for people to mouse with their right hand. Many pens and scissors work better if you are right handed. Sports equipment such as ball gloves and golf clubs are usually designed with right handers in mind. In large college lecture halls, the flip up desks are made for right handed students. Cameras and some power tools are easier to use if you are right handed.

As a right handed person, I was unaware of the challenges that left handed people faced. Simply put, left handed people are put at a disadvantage and right handed people have no idea. If you are right handed, you are part of the numerical majority (90%) and the ingroup.

Exploited and victimized? These are strong words to describe an outgroup and they might make you cringe. While being left handed carries little social stigma today, historically it did. I know someone who was born left handed and she told many stories of being smacked on the hands and even having her left hand tied behind her back while she was in public school during the 1950s. All of this was due to the social stigma attached to being left handed. Today, the idea of punishing a child for being left handed seems pretty ridiculous.

The change in attitude about handedness reiterates a point from an earlier post: culture is fluid and it can change. We cannot imagine such things happening today simply for being left handed. I wonder what other aspects of culture will also change with time. Have you noticed certain cultural dimensions becoming more accepted in your lifetime? What changes have you observed? Do you think these changes are for the better? Why or why not?

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