My name in Japanese is 知愛. 知 means “to know” and 愛 means “love.” Since I was little, I have been always interested in love, especially what it means to love others.
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm has my favorite quote on love. It says, “Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration. … It isn’t a feeling; it is a practice.”
I am in the field of social work, and the more I learn and work in this field, the more I am convinced that “loving your neighbor” requires us to utilize many skills through discipline and practice. Love does not come naturally.
Cultural humility is one of the practical skills I reflected on recently. According to the Boston Medical Center, cultural humility is “a dynamic and lifelong process focusing on self-reflection and personal critique, acknowledging one’s own biases.”
The word “culture” can be confusing, but culture can mean your history, occupation, experience, community, family and everything that shaped who you are.
Some people think they do not need “cultural humility” because they do not interact with people who look different from them. You may look the same, speak the same language and come from the same country. Yet, there are always different aspects of culture that shape us.
Culture plays a huge role in our values, especially when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong. This strict judgment can often take us away from loving others, which is why cultural humility and self-awareness are so crucial.
If I were to translate cultural humility into biblical language, I would choose Matthew 7:3-5 which states: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … first take the plank out of your own eye.”
This Bible verse talks about removing the speck from others’ eyes, but the focus truly is on ourselves. It is significant that Jesus says to look at ourselves before we do anything to someone else. Considering and applying cultural humility is crucial when we try to better love others, and this happens very easily in our everyday life.
I was on a date recently and my date asked me, “If your friend is choosing to do something wrong, are you going to tell them that it is wrong?” He gently said, “I think it is important to be honest with your friend if you really care about them.”
It sounded like, for him, honesty is the way of caring and respecting others. However, when I heard the part about “telling your friend it’s wrong,” I could feel myself getting angry.
I defensively said, “I don’t think it is right to tell your friend they’re wrong. We can never tell someone what is right and wrong. If we truly love people, we should be curious and listen to stories/reasons behind their action.”
I suddenly felt a strong need to convince him that he was wrong. I felt like I had justice in my hand, and I was protecting future people that he will interact with by trying to change his perspective.
In my head, I was preaching love and doing the right thing because I assumed that I understood who he was, what he was trying to say and where his opinion was coming from based on this short conversation.
My focus was on taking away the speck in his eye. When I realized that I had been too harsh, the shame was indescribable.
It felt like someone was punching me in the face with brass knuckles. Not because he turned me down, but because I realized that I was a complete hypocrite. I saw a plank in my eyes.
All the things that I told him that we “should not” do to other people, I was doing to him. Based on this one conversation, I categorized him, preached what was right and wrong, and relied on my assumption instead of being more curious.
We were from the same ethnic group and religious background, and I am in the field of social work where cultural humility is emphasized. Therefore, I assumed I was self-aware and knew what was going on in this situation.
I failed to consider other aspects of his culture because of my own assumptions. I failed to love this person as my neighbor. I bet he felt judged by me, which is far away from love.
Recognizing this plank in my eye was incredibly painful and shameful, but deciding to take it away was even worse. It meant that I couldn’t just stay in a shame box and feel sorry about myself. It meant I had to reflect, take responsibility and apply my lesson to my own life.
Taking away planks in our eyes is important because if we skip this fundamental process, then we are loving our neighbors blindly. Regardless of our intention, we may end up hurting others.
When we choose pain, take our courage, and believe that we can do better, something magnificent comes out of the pain.
This breakdown and lack of cultural humility humbled me. It softened my heart and made me brave enough to accept that I have fear within me that makes me defensive. It allowed me to reflect on tense relationships in my life, listen to different perspectives and accept the differences.
Love is not naturally easy. It requires skill, and the foundational skill we need is cultural humility.
When you practice this skill, it can cause discomfort, pain and shame. However, it is worth it because it helps us grow and love others better, with the kind of love that is willing to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit an article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Master of Social Work graduate student at Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work and a social work intern at The Center for Church and Community Impact. She has lived in Korea, Japan and the United States, but her home is wherever her people are.