Iceberg with Music, Customs, Language above water and values, priorities, assumptions, body language, stories, manners, space/time concepts under water
Develop Intercultural Awareness
Practicing Intercultural Agility

In order for a congregation to reflect the global majority in its membership, its leaders must learn to model how to de-center the culture of the congregation from White identity and culture. Here are some practices to get you started.

Be Humble (Part I): Know You Will Make Mistakes

It's impossible to know everything about every culture. Yet, it may be embarrassing or awkward to admit to not knowing what you think you should know about other cultures. Giving yourself permission to "not know" and to make mistakes that you can learn from is the first step to intercultural competence.

Be Humble (Part II): Practice Cultural Humility

Cultural humility is the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the [person].” Cultural humility is different from other culturally-based training ideals because it focuses on self-humility rather than achieving a state of knowledge or awareness. 

Be Gentle: Let Others Make Mistakes, Too

Each person is on their own journey of intercultural awareness. Unfortunately, Unitarian Universalism had inherited a little bit of Calvinism from our Puritan forebears in that we can be self-righteous, anxious to pin a red letter on anyone who has made a mistake. Yet we also know that shaming can interfere with learning. It's better to support one another's learning with a spirit of mutuality.

Be Authentic: Learn Your Own Culture

Each person has a social location, which influences their identities, biases, assumptions and values. In order to understand cultural differences, it's important to understand one's own culture, especially aspects that are primarily out of awareness. If you don't think or feel that you have a culture, you are probably part of the dominant white culture. In this case you may want to spend some extra time exploring what it means to be white.

Be Aware: Notice Cultural Nuances

Work on developing your sensibility around cultural differences that are primarily out of awareness, as shown in the Cultural Iceberg graphic above. How does body language differ? What does it mean to be on time? How are the elders treated?

Be Curious: Learn About Other Cultures

Become a cultural anthropologist. Read books and watch movies by people from other cultures. If you are part of the dominant white culture, attend an event or visit a business where you are the minority and notice how the culture differs from your own.

Be Mutual: Build Relationships Across Cultures

When interacting with people from other cultures, be in an "I-Thou" or "Namaste" frame of mind and spirit, where you see and interact with the whole person. Look for consent that the other person wants to have the conversation. Instead of the Golden Rule, adopt the Platinum Rule of "Do unto others as 'they'd' like done unto them." Here are some guidelines

Be Patient: Competence Takes Time

It took hundreds of years for White Anglo Saxon culture to dominate the United States, and it will take decades to dismantle it. 


About the Author

  • Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. She serves congregation in Northeast Ohio and Western New York. She is part of the LeaderLab Design team providing Leadership Development resources and other trainings to congregations.

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