Cultural Humility: The Ground of Social Engagement

Effective social engagement starts with genuine communication and connection with people by recognizing their basic goodness. To do this, it is useful to consider how to interact skillfully with people whose backgrounds and assumptions differ from our own.

Culture is dynamic, rather than static. It is constantly re-created and negotiated in specific social contexts. All of us both embody and encounter a multiplicity of cultures every day.  We do not neatly “fit” into simple categories.  A social hierarchy of cultural identities colors the water we swim.  In the face of such complexity, it is useful to develop an attitude of inquiry, sensitivity and active listening. This open attitude of “cultural humility” opens the energetic pathways for creating enlightened society (term coined by Melanie Tervalon, MD, MPH and Jan Murray, MD, MPH).

Sakyong Mipham asks: “How are we to communicate across cultural boundaries?” He further states: “In strengthening the global family, we will need to learn to communicate by learning to feel the heart.”

We begin to feel the heart by recognizing that we care, we want to have a positive effect on people. With this sense of caring we become more curious. As we know from our meditation practice, deep listening, both to ourselves and to others, is key to open hearted curiosity. What gets in the way of deep listening? We have been raised with a myriad of influences and interpretations about the world. In this program, especially for Shambhala Center members, leaders and Shambhala educators, we will practice conscious listening and explore how we’ve been socially conditioned to interpret what we hear. Knowing where we come from and how we’ve been conditioned is the basis for developing cultural humility, the life long process of self reflection and self critique that supports cultural differences and inclusive community. This is a strong foundation for social engagement.

To attend Shastri Leung’s Cultural Humility workshop, co-led by Shastri Ethan Nichtern on June 9th-10th, register here.

Charlene Leung is a Shastri, a senior teacher, in the Shambhala tradition and has been a student of Shambhala since the early 1980’s. She serves as the Chairperson of the Diversity Working Group for Shambhala International.  In addition to teaching and mentoring in Shambhala, she co-facilitates groups for the UNtraining, an organization devoted to healing personal and social oppressions.  She practices Chinese medicine and teaches qi gong in the San Francisco Bay Area.