Thursday, August 28, 2008

Inclusion and Hope

I watched Senator Hillary Clinton move that Senator Barack Obama be nominated by acclamation yesterday during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. My eyes moistened. My throat tightened. My heart swelled.

I watched President Clinton and Senator John Kerry in their resounding endorsements of Senator Obama. I watched Senator Joe Biden talk about why he supports Senator Obama. My eyes moistened. My throat tightened. My heart swelled.

I watched Senators Obama and Biden walk hand in hand onstage in Denver after Senator Biden made his speech accepting nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party last night.

It has been an emotional experience watching inclusion in action.

I am 55 years old. I was born in southwest Arkansas. I started segregated school in the two-room Rosenwald Elementary School in 1957 the same fall that the 9 black students bravely entered Little Rock Central High School. I drank from segregated water fountains, received food from the back of restaurants, and vividly recall segregated waiting rooms.

I watched the 1963 March on Washington, like many others, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream about a society where people of all ethnic, religious, and regional, and philosophical backgrounds would fashion a community of shared values. Like people across the world, I was inspired, even at ten years old.

I watched Presidents Kennedy and Johnson deal with segregation and the violence directed at Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Freedom Riders, and voting rights activists who risked life, limb, and their emotional wholeness trying to make inclusion real in the United States. I recall the numbing pain of the attacks on civil rights marchers in Selma, Birmingham, and other places. I was 15 when Dr. King was murdered in Memphis and when Senator Robert Kennedy was murdered two months later in Los Angeles.

I am a U.S. Army veteran who knows how to "suck it up" and hold emotion inside myself. I am a lawyer and judge. I am an ordained minister and former pastor who has endured personal tragedies and sorrows, and who has comforted others in similar experiences.

Watching what happened in Denver yesterday evening made my eyes moist, my throat tighten, and my heart swell.

I was watching what my parents, grandparents, and so many others had prayed, hoped, and told me would someday happen. I was watching what Dr. King spoke about in his "I Have A Dream" speech. I was watching what people of hope, faith, and goodwill have been talking about throughout American history.

I do not know who will be elected President of the United States in the November 2008 election. I do not know how the coming weeks of campaigning will unfold. I do not know who will vote, who will not vote, or why people will vote as they vote.

I simply know that Barack Obama and Joe Biden represent what people of goodwill in the United States have hoped and worked to achieve for generations. I only know that we are witnessing world history unfolding. We are watching answered prayers. We are watching hope being vindicated. We are watching inclusion and hope. I do not apologize for my emotions. No, I am simply thankful that I have the blessed opportunity to witness what people everywhere hold dear. No matter who we are or where we live, people hope to be included as equally worthy of aspiring for opportunity.

I am glad my eyes moisten, my throat tightens, and my heart swells. I will not be ashamed of those reactions today, tonight, tomorrow, or in the future. I will simply continue to pray, work for inclusion, and hope.

Let's pray, work, and hope together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cultural Competence, Diversity, and Diversity Challenges

Cultural Competence, Diversity, and Diversity Challenges

What is "cultural competence" and what does it have to do with my work? "Cultural competence" involves acquiring, integrating, and transforming knowledge about individuals, situations, circumstances, environments, events, and people in ways that produce congruent systems, standards, policies, practices, and attitudes in cross-cultural settings to achieve effective results.

Cultural competence is an ongoing process that involves a person doing the following:
1. Learning about cultural differences, distinctions, and realities;
2. Integrating that knowledge into his or her overall intelligence and skill base;
3. Transforming the knowledge into congruent attitudes, practices, policies, standards, and systems;
4. Applying the knowledge in appropriate cross-cultural settings; and
5. Achieving effective cross-cultural results.

Cultural competence and diversity are different, although related, realities. "Diversity" refers to all the ways that people are different, as well as the many different ways that we are similar. For instance, any visitor to another country will immediately recognize that the people of that country are different. That recognition involves appreciating diversity to some extent. However, appreciating diversity does not automatically make one competent to engage in cross-cultural interactions.

Cultural competence involves much more than realizing that people vary. It is possible to know that people are wondrously different and similar while being destructive, inept, blind, or uneasy in cross-cultural situations because we either fail to recognize or mishandle diversity challenges. A diversity challenge is grounded in the simple fact that in spite of our similarities, the differences matter. Therefore, any cross-cultural encounter may involve differences that matter to one party but not the other, resulting in a cultural disconnect.

Military, health care, education, and social services providers in the U.S. have the longest experience dealing with cultural competence and its implications. The U.S. Defense Department began formal consideration of the issue during the early Seventies with creation of the Defense Race Relations Institute—now the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI). A cursory Internet search using the term "cultural competence" or "cultural competency" will produce scores of articles by health care, education, and social services providers. Cultural competence is now an integral part of the professional and continuing learning process for many education, health care, and social services providers.

On the other hand, attention to cultural competence has yet to be included in the way people prepare to work in public policy, law, business, philanthropy and other non-profit work, and in religion. Recall, for example, the uproar produced after Pope Benedict quoted a controversial comment attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. And, according to an October 17, 2006 opinion editorial by Jeff Stein, a national security columnist for the New York Times, most of the U.S. leaders that Stein interviewed in the intelligence community, law enforcement, and even members of Congress with oversight responsibility for intelligence matters did not know the difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

The response often heard when people find themselves in trouble after having engaged in some mis-step arising from a cross-cultural interaction or exchange is that the actor had good intentions, or did not have bad intentions. However, competency/proficiency is never determined by "intentions," be they good or bad. By definition, one cannot be competent, let alone proficient, at anything and also be ignorant, insensitive about that ignorance, or complacent about changing it. Saying "I meant no harm" does not transform the unskilled operator of a wrecked automobile into a competent driver, repair any injuries and damage resulting from the wreck, or give other motorists reason to trust the operator to drive safely in the future.

At Griffen Strategic Consulting, we understand that cross-cultural interactions are the rule, not exceptional experiences. Simply put, cultural incompetence is not an acceptable option in today's global marketplace, nor does it need to be. Wendell Griffen, Manny Brandt, and Dolores Fridge have devoted decades to helping leaders understand and apply this truth in practical and effective ways. Every GSC consultant is committed to delivering culturally competent service. If you would like to talk with us, please contact us for a complimentary initial discussion of your needs and our approach. Visit the GSC website at to learn more about who we are and what we do. Wendell Griffen