Developing Cultural Humility and Cultural Empathy

As many of you know, National Hispanic Heritage Month (NHHM) occurs from September 15 to October 15. With NHHM in mind, I would like to share the following.

This semester I have the honor of teaching Counseling Skills to Counselors-in-Training.  As I was getting ready for class, I was reminded of the importance of Cultural Humility and Cultural Empathy. I believe that this reminder was timely. Many of us can strive to achieve both Cultural Humility and Cultural Empathy.

Cultural Humility can be defined as both an openness toward self-reflection about our existence as a culturally embedded being and a willingness to hear and strive to understand aspects of the cultural backgrounds and identities of others1

To better help my students understand Cultural Humility, I invited my good friend and colleague, Dr. Joshua Hook, one of the top researchers on this subject. He shared with the students three ways to challenge ourselves and grow in our Cultural Humility.

  1. Individuals need to recognize their gaps in knowledge about a particular culture.2 He or she must also accept his or her limitations of understanding other individuals’ cultures, and cultural experiences3.
  2. Individuals should seek Cultural Opportunities (i.e., space in which individuals look for opportunities to grow in their knowledge of the other’s culture). Here is where I would like to add the importance of Cultural Empathy. Individuals who seek cultural opportunities must-have genuine interest in the other’s culture, awareness and sensitivity about some aspects of the other’s culture and, genuine appreciation for cultural differences4. Think Cultural Relativism, which seeks to encourage the person to see culture as unique to that group/population and not compare it to their own culture and conclude whether it’s worse or better than their own culture. 
  3. Individuals need to develop Cultural Comfort (i.e.,the degree to which individuals feel at ease with culture-related discussions). Individuals need to become comfortable having and entering conversations about culture with other people in their workplace, family, church, etc.

As one can note, many of us can be more intentional in developing Cultural Humility and Cultural Empathy. We accomplish this by combining the golden rule of “treating others like we would like to be treated” and being mindful that they might want to be treated differently because of their cultural background. Think mutual respect between you and the other. I am reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” Jesus knew/knows that we don’t treat others like we would like to be treated.  Instead, in our human nature, we usually treat others like we have been treated in our past. Dear reader, I urge you to consider Cultural Humility and Cultural Empathy in your life and to encourage it in the life of others.


Luis San Roman, Ed.D., MA/TS, MA/MHC