Friday, February 24, 2006

cultural proficiency

It's kind of crazy when your work life and spiritual life intertwine so perfectly. Our church, thanks in large part to my husband's countless hours and creative energy, is launching a new series this week. It's called "If I Could Change the World." As a church body, we're going be studying and looking at big issues: racism, poverty, oppression of women, intolerance, among others. I've been thinking a lot about how this series may affect our community, which is a very homogenous upper-middle class white crowd. I've been praying that it will make people uncomfortable, in the sense that it will make them struggle with these issues like never before.

The other day I stopped at Starbucks after a hard swim to pick up some coffee on my way to work. A homeless woman sat outside. I've seen her there frequently, and at times have offered up a little prayer for her. (I started "stranger praying" about a year ago and it's been totally radical for me. Rather than stressing and worrying and hurting for all the hard things I see in these poor, rundown communities, I pray about it. I pray for complete strangers, and it is so liberating). That day, as I left Starbucks ($3.60 for a tall half caff coffee and reduced fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake) she asked for change. I turned toward her and asked if I could buy her some coffee or breakfast. She looked at me with disgust in her face, saying, "No, I don't want coffee, I want some change." I don't really like giving change to people because I really don't want to enable them to get a fix. I feel much more comfortable providing something of substance. But her face was so clearly displeased with what I had to offer. So I did something I'm ashamed to admit. I simply lied and said I didn't have change, but I'd be happy to pay for something to eat for her. She gave me the same look and made a "tch" sound with her mouth, turning away.

Today I attended a training on working with multicultural youth in a school-based setting. Usually these trainings are helpful, but so many of them just repeat the same message over and over. These presenters had new language and fresh ideas, which made me feel so empowered and encouraged and inspired. One key concept they shared was the idea of cultural proficiency versus cultural competency. Competency suggests that one has learned all there is to learn about a culture, whereas proficiency means you know enough to pass the test, so to speak. And I started to think about the homeless culture, about this woman sitting outside Starbucks and I felt so sad, like I had totally misunderstood her. I want another chance to talk to her, another chance to look into her eyes and try to understand her, versus trying to validate my own understanding of who I think she is.

So there is hope that I am changing, one little bit of me at a time. I really hope the day comes when I don't grow uncomfortable when I see someone asking for money, but where I put myself in their shoes and try to understand from their point of view. I guess my prayers are working, at least for me. I look forward to seeing her again...I hope I get the opportunity to learn more.


Ben said...

I was recently reviewing a software program for our products and this particular program required a user to enter a date. This program expects the date to be entered in this format (month/day/year). However, this program was intended to be used by our Irish offices and Europe (and most of the world for that matter) uses the (day/month/year) format.

I could fill several pages about cultural proficiency if I were to write about my trip to India...

Good thoughts--

Susan said...

After last nights dinner at Church and hearing about Friday night alive and serving/praying for the homeless in San Francisco, and listening to the man from World Outreach and how he is changing West Oakland one day at a time, I felt inspired to do more. Becky, I agree that we need to start doing more for all of the people out there who need help. I hope that together we can come up with ways to serve them as Jesus would want us to and to see life through their eyes. We have so much and it is so easy to become self absorbed and not focus on those around us. Hopefully as a group, we can work on ways to reach out to the homeless and to others who so badly need our help.

Thanks for your posting!

Sanctification said...

You are so amazing for confessing your mistakes. How refreshing and humbling!