What is cultural sensitivity? I looked it up… it means having the skills to learn, understand and accept people whose cultural background is different to yours. It means an awareness and acceptance of cultural differences – that they aren’t seen as positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong.
I live in Australia, a country where multiculturalism is celebrated and promoted in our society. This notion is reflected in our diverse communities and largely positive social cohesion. People with different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities call Australia home. Suffice to say, cultural sensitivity is important for effective interactions and a peaceful society.
I found myself thinking about cultural sensitivity yesterday after a session as a classroom volunteer for literacy and computer skills. There were people from different origins – Iran, Ethiopia, China, Hong Kong to name a few.
As I was assisting several of the women with their computer tasks, I found myself touching people on their backs. I’m not sure why I was doing this as I’m not generally a tactile person. Usually, I feel uncomfortable with people in my personal space and touching me. So when I noticed myself being handsy, I made a conscious effort not to touch, which somehow made me touch even more!
Reflecting on my interactions with the women, I wondered if I had acted in a culturally insensitive way. A touch to the back could be seen as a friendly gesture to some and a disrespectful or inappropriate gesture to others. Not knowing or understanding their background, values or life experiences, makes it impossible to tell.
So you know what I’ll do in the next lesson? I will ask instead of making assumptions. I will take time to get to know the students as individuals. I will put into practice the words of wisdom that I like to impart to my children about being culturally sensitive.
Because for me, being Australian means: respecting one another, embracing cultural diversity, respecting differences, valuing each other’s contribution and giving people a fair go. It also means practicing cultural sensitivity through my willingness to change my behaviours and communication styles to meet other cultural norms.
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