Cultural Humility: Definition & Example

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  • 0:03 Definition of Cultural…
  • 1:56 Three Facets to…
  • 4:27 Example of Cultural Humility
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Cultural humility is a lifelong process that ensures that professionals learn about other cultures and are sensitive to cultural differences. Learn the definition and three facets of cultural humility and see an example in this lesson.

Definition of Cultural Humility

Lisa is a white American nurse from Louisiana who has just accepted a job offer at a hospital in El Paso, Texas. Aware that many of her new patients will be of Mexican descent, Lisa spends several months reading literature on the Mexican culture to better acquaint herself with this new population. A well-informed Lisa feels confident and culturally competent before beginning her new job.

Due to the increasing diversity of our world and the intermixing of different cultures, the importance of cultural competence in the professional world has become more salient. Yet, cultural competence can only take us so far. What's even more desirable? Cultural humility.

Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude toward individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases, realize they cannot possibly know everything about other cultures, and approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

Cultural humility was established due to the limitations of cultural competence. Some professionals, like social workers, medical professionals, or educators, believed themselves to be culturally competent after learning some generalizations of a particular culture. Cultural humility encourages an active participation in order to learn about a patient's or client's personal, cultural experiences.

After a few months of studying Mexican culture and working with some Mexican patients, Lisa feels confident in her understanding of the culture. Due to her knowledge that a majority of Mexicans are Catholic, she requests a priest for one of her patients without first consulting them. It just so happens that the patient is actually Jewish and feels offended by Lisa's assumption.

If Lisa took an approach in cultural humility, she wouldn't assume to know everything about people with Mexican cultural backgrounds. She would ask her patients questions to gain a better understanding of their own personal cultural history, experience, and beliefs.

Three Facets to Cultural Humility

The concept of cultural humility was developed by medical doctors Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia in a 1998 academic article published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. In this article, Tervalon and Murray-Garcia identified three facets to cultural humility.

Self-Critique Is a Lifelong Process

First, self-critique is a lifelong process. Cultural humility suggests remaining humble and aware of one's deficient knowledge of other cultures. Mostly, it's important to be okay with not knowing everything. Self-evaluation and learning about other cultures is a lifelong process; each individual is multi-dimensional with a complex cultural identity. For example, Maya, a teenage girl from Israel, is not Jewish nor does she eat kosher. She is a Palestinian Muslim who is originally from Syria but is considering converting to Baptist Christian.

Cultural humility also requires us to be critical of our own cultural biases. For example, someone might prefer independence of family members versus interdependence because of their own cultural values. Cultural humility pushes us to challenge our assumptions, judgments, and prejudices; it encourages experts to become students when interacting with individuals of other cultures.

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Additional Activities

Activities for Cultural Humility

Activity 1:

In this lesson you read about cultural humility, which is having a respectful and humble attitude toward other cultures with the realization that what is normative in one's own culture is not necessarily "right" or "better", but just different than another culture. In your own experience, do most people seek to attain cultural humility? Is this something of which you see evidence in your family, friends, and social milieu, or do you view the opposite? For example, you may witness a person striving to understand another person from another culture, or witness a person dismissing the ideas from the other culture as being weird or abnormal. In two to three paragraphs, describe instances of when you have witnessed a person of one culture interacting with a person from another culture. Also discuss whether you believe this type of attitude is normative and why.

Activity 2:

You read that cultural humility requires people to be critical of their own assumptions of normalcy. Think of a situation that is outside of your normative experience. For example, you may have been raised in a nuclear household with two parents and two or three biologically related siblings. If so, imagine a household with three generations living together consisting of a grandmother and grandfather, a mother and father, and children. What are your thoughts about this? Do you feel yourself becoming critical and judgmental, believing that independence for each generation is the best outcome, or do you feel that it is a perfectly acceptable way to live? In two to three paragraphs, describe a living situation that is non-normative to you, and investigate your opinions and judgments about it.

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