Cultural Competency

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

I live in what is considered an egalitarian society with much cultural diversity among its people. It’s not a perfect system, and with its blemished history of oppression of native people and minorities, it has come a long way. We need to do more to promote greater equality among our population. On this thought, I realized the importance of developing cultural competency.

Cultural competency is a way of thinking and behaving that allows one to interact or work effectively with another person of different cultural background. Although this sounds straightforward and simple, it really is not. Several factors interfere with our ability to be culturally competent. Our acculturation or upbringing and cognitive makeup often pose as hindrances to keeping an open mind about different people. This, coupled with stereotyping and prejudice, leads to our discriminatory attitude and behavior towards people we consider different or less than us.

We often associate cultural awareness or competency with simply developing a tolerance for and understanding of other races. However, when one speaks of culture, it involves more than just skin color, language, or religion. It has a broader scope than that.

“Cultural competency is recognizing that each individual is unique and different, and one’s perspective is not necessarily inferior or superior to another but rather influenced by complex factors.”

For example, age or a particular age group has its own characteristics that quite define it as different from other age groups. Members of that group have a general attitude and perspective about life that other age groups may not have. Take, for instance, adolescents whose perspectives about time, values, and life, in general, are very different from retired folks. The sense of priorities in life is so different for each group that conflict is inevitable when they live or work together.

Another example is gender. Here, I’m not only talking about males or females. We know that the two sexes are very different culturally. They also occupy different planets: one is Mars and the other Venus. If we analyze the crux of most conflicts between husband and wife, we realize that the bone of contention often centers on what each feels entitled to. “I’m the bread-winner of the house so I can get me a Maserati whenever I want to,” or “After a long day’s work, I need to hang out with my buddies to relax,” men would say. “Raising those kids and keeping the house together is a full-time job, and shopping every now then helps keep my sanity,” the wife would probably say. If you throw in the mix of LGBTQ’s or religion, it gets even more complicated.

Having said all that, I realize that cultural competency involves a lot more than mere understanding why my neighbor loves eating “chicken feet” or “spoiled and rotten salted eggs” with porridge rice for breakfast, or why Ahmed won’t eat pork but eats beef. In contrast, Rajendra eats pork but not beef. Cultural competency is recognizing that each individual is unique and different, and one’s perspective is not necessarily inferior or superior to another but rather influenced by complex factors.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

Leave a Comment

X