Cultural Competency Begins with Self-Awareness

How important is self-awareness? It is enormously important in the cross-cultural setting. The single greatest hindrance to effective intercultural communication is the assumption that others see the world as I do. They do not! The grid through which I “see” is shaped by: (a) core worldview assumptions about is and is not real and (b) embraced values about what ought or ought not to be. Both worldview assumptions and embraced values are usually outside of our awareness, that is, they are tacitly assumed. They are in place and functioning, real and powerful, but we do not consciously think about either.

Author and cross-cultural trainer Duane Elmer illustrates self-awareness through a simple story that may have come from East Africa. The story is called, “The Monkey and a Fish”.

A typhoon temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish. A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down, and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.

Cultural competency in communicating effectively across cultures begins with understanding who I am.