Cultural Humility

Like we discussed in previous sections of this training–we are not wired to be objective. By nature all human beings think that their truth is the “right” truth. While feeling like we are “right” may have been helpful in ensuring the survival of the human race, it hasn’t added to a more peaceful world.

What We Mean by “Humility” in Relation to Culture

Humility is ​freedom from pride and arrogance. When we are humble, we realize that our value isn’t higher than anyone else’s. Cultural humility means that we don’t approach other cultures from a position of superiority. We recognize that there is much we don’t know, and we choose to not make assumptions.

It is important to recognize that we have biases because of our own worldview and cultural lenses, and we mindfully choose to put those biases aside. We are intentional not to raise our sense of importance over another person’s.

When we practice cultural humility, we approach other cultures from a position of “not knowing;” we don’t elevate our importance over theirs, and we are willing and open to learn from another culture.

We must actively choose humility.

That means that we must engage in an internal wrestle that challenges the way our brain processes differences. It is easy to listen to others in a way that may “look” like we are humble, but underneath we still think ours is the better way. We must challenge performative humility. When we engage with people who have different cultural backgrounds than us, we must actively choose to listen from a place of not knowing, with genuine humility, and kind curiosity.

Cultural humility is a lifelong process of learning that takes mindfulness and self-reflection.  It also includes mitigating power imbalances and institutional accountability (Miyagawa, 2020).

The Oxford dictionary defines humility as this: ​the quality of not thinking that you are better than other people; the quality of being humble.

The Practice of Cultural Humility

The Psych Hub video “What is Cultural Humility?” on Youtube states that to be culturally aware means to be aware of power imbalances and biases, to respect others’ values and beliefs and to continuously reflect on our own biases.

The video also shares the following ways we can practice this:

  • Recognize that no culture is better than another
  • Continuously engage in self-reflection (about our own biases and mistakes we’ve made)
  • Practice vulnerability: Be honest when you are not sure of something
  • Learn about other cultures, but know that you can’t possibly know everything
  • Find support systems and accountability

A key component of cultural humility is that no one gets it right all the time. In fact, a huge part of cultural humility is openness to understanding that there is much we haven’t learned yet. This creates opportunity for more learning, and potential for more equity and inclusion in our communities.

What is Ethnocentrism?

Being ethnocentric means believing your own culture and behaviour is the only valid one.

An example of ethnocentrism often shows up in attitudes towards food. For example, in some cultures, it’s normal to eat guinea pig or dog meat, but many other cultures would view this as disgusting, even though they wouldn’t question their own diet that also includes eating animals, just different ones like cows or pigs.

Another example of ethnocentrism would be thinking that immigrants should adopt the culture and practices of the country  in which they now live, abandoning the practices and beliefs of their country of origin. This implies that their country of origin’s culture is inferior and that to succeed or be a ‘proper’ citizen in their new country, they must assimilate.

The early colonization of Canada was deeply rooted in ethnocentrism; this was shown in the belief of British colonizers that they were superior to Indigenous peoples. In 1907, R.B. Bennett (Canadian Prime Minister from 1930-35) told British Columbians that their province “must remain a white man’s country.” These attitudes can and do still surface today.

Self-Reflection & Cultural Humility

Our experiences shape the way we see the world. That means that our worldview is grounded in our beliefs and the culture(s) we identify with personally. Unless we very intentionally choose to do the work to understand a culture different from our own, we will not even begin to understand it. We need to take a humble position of ‘not knowing’ in order to begin to understand other cultures.

Standing in a place of cultural humility when connecting with someone helps us create space that is safer, more respectful and freer from racism and discrimination. This takes practice.

“Cultural humility is a process of self-reflection to understand personal and systemic biases and to develop and maintain respectful processes and relationships based on mutual trust. Cultural humility involves humbly acknowledging oneself as a learner when it comes to understanding another’s experience.” – First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), Creating a Climate for Change


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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