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“The key to community is the acceptance, in fact the celebration of our individual and cultural differences. It is also the key to world peace.” – M. Scott Peck

In an increasingly globalized world, with progressively interconnected global issues, the ability to interact and effectively communicate cross-culturally is not only one of the most sought-after skills in the job market, but also a matter of survival. 

Receptivity to different cultural perspectives is proportionately tied to your level of cultural self-awareness. The healthier your sense of self, the more open you are to diversity in all of its forms.

The most important lessons I’ve learned in life have come from learning how others from a different culture view things. Embracing diversity is definitely not an easy task, however, the benefits outweigh the challenges. In this blogpost I’ll discuss some of the benefits of developing cultural sensitivity.

What is cultural sensitivity?

Cultural sensitivity is the capacity to respect and embrace other cultures while preserving your sense of cultural awareness. Culture, in this sense, is defined as ways of living, role expectations, beliefs, practices, perspectives, opinions, and ideas about the self and others.

On the other hand, cultural relativity is the skill that we must practice when mastering the art of cultural sensitivity. Cultural relativity is “the ability to understand a culture on its terms” and not make judgments using the standards of one’s own culture.

“No culture is inherently superior to another and people with different backgrounds can have relationships that acknowledge, respect and begin to understand each other’s diverse lives.”

Tracy Evans, Santa Ana College. “Cultural Anthropology.” Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/culturalanthropology/chapter/cultural-relativism/. 

In other words, cultural relativity is less about one culture dominating the other and more about building on each other’s strengths.

Understanding human nature

Embracing cultural differences is easier said than done. There are certainly benefits, but there are also limitations.

First, as natural beings, we’re biologically wired to favor those who look and think like us. Second, we are social beings living in a social world ruled by a system that has convinced us of our separateness. 

This means that we didn’t necessarily learn how to tolerate differences and have civil conversations about complex topics. As a result, we have become too afraid of saying the wrong things.

It’s important to understand that while we had little to no control over what we learned growing up, we do have a choice in deciding the patterns we perpetuate. Perhaps we grew up listening to racist, xenophobic or sexist comments, but we’re now making the conscious decision to interrupt the pattern so that we don’t pass it on to future generations.

Bridging the divide

The next big step in bridging the cultural divide is understanding the active role that we must all participate in unlearning the limiting attitudes and behavior that prevent us from achieving effective cross-cultural communication. This is only sustainable if we do it from a place of self-compassion and nonjudgment. 

Will this be an easy process? Absolutely not.

Will the discomfort be worth it? 100 % yes. 

Remember that nothing grows in complacency.

Benefits and action plan

The main benefit of mastering the art of cultural sensitivity is that it creates stronger teams, with an enhanced ability for problem-solving. People with different backgrounds can help each other see possibilities that they never thought were there because of self-imposed limitations and cultural norms. It ultimately provides new ways of being and expressing ourselves. 

I’ve listed three simple habits you can adopt to improve your cross-cultural interactions.

The three steps to integrate cultural relativism in your life are:

  • Listen to understand vs. to react
  • Withhold judgement (hard but possible 😅)
  • Perspective check – don’t make assumptions and ask questions (tons of them!)

Conclusion

In conclusion, cultural relativity is less about one culture displacing another and more about building on each other’s strengths. 

 A society where everyone feels safe to be who they are, creates the conditions for diversity to flourish, which positively benefits everyone. 

The art of cultural sensitivity is truly about mastering the self. You can only understand the other as deeply as you’ve understood (and accepted) yourself. 

So start with yourself.

Start wherever you are.

Use whatever you have.

Are you committed to learning different ways of showing up in this world?

… to be continued.