The last two weeks have been rich with emotional issues, killings between Shias and Sunnis (during Ramadan), research demonstrating that a biased response on Harvard’s Implicit Association Test may have no bearing on how we act, and the verdict from the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Cultural competence requires that we consciously hold back the prejudgments, assumptions and biases prior to making a judgment or taking action. It is virtually impossible to hold back these prejudices, but we can make a deliberate attempt to practice empathy or at least withhold judgment.
To do this, we must first focus on Describing someone’s behavior, so if someone is running through my neighborhood, focus on the behavior only.
Next is the Interpretation of the behavior: They are exercising and they belong here. They are running and do not belong here. There are always several possible interpretations.
Finally is my Judgment about the behavior (is it good or bad?). They are safe/dangerous.
Most people immediately jump to the Judgment stage. In intercultural settings, there can always be multiple interpretations of a behavior and as a result numerous judgments resulting on the interpretation of the behavior. The more we know others who are different from us, the more likely we will be able to hold multiple interpretations of the same behavior and thus come closer to practicing empathy.