Cultural Humility: Truths, Translation and Generous Listening

February 13, 2017

Have you ever been in a setting where you needed something translated? Language translation is one of the most frequent and obvious examples, but other scenarios involve the same principle of making the unknown known, or at least better-known. The story of my first day working in Louisville as associate for gender and racial justice is an example. Heading to work on a Monday morning, a man walking toward my direction looked at my face and said, “You are a fortune cookie, aren’t you?” Startled, and feeling threatened as an Asian woman navigating a new cultural context where I stand out as a racial minority, I hurried into the building.

This experience allowed me to gain a critical self-awareness of my own socio-cultural context, and what it means and feels like to be transplanted into another. As a Korean-American having lived back and forth between Seoul, Korea and New York, it was not the first time I found myself caught betwixt and between two worlds. However, experiencing this two-fold process of re- and de-contextualization as I started my new call challenged me to reconsider the “norm” of the context of my ministry, and the people I serve.

Though one incident, I wondered if encounters like these are all that foreign to the cross-cultural interactions that happen in our churches. As a result, I began to ask these questions: What if, I had an opportunity to engage in discussion with that person to foster mutual growth? What if, I had mistakenly denied the truth of others as a result of my limited experiences without even noticing it? How can I not simply mark this disruptive encounter as an offensive incident, but as a learning moment to carefully think about how I can be generous and patient with others as I communicate issues of justice?