“Cultural Humility, Political Correctness, and Intentions”
By Alexa Pinsker
“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” – bell hooks
In preparation for our trip to Cambodia, we have been discussing the most beneficial ways to communicate our purpose, vision, and mission of the trip. As we dialogue more, it seems more awareness around language has resulted. Recently, I joked that it is difficult to explain the trip in a few sentences because each week the appropriate language has changed. For example, I once described the trip as a service-learning trip intended to empower women survivors of the sex trafficking industry. As Zara Zimbardo illustrated, the word empower implies that a woman does not have power and that another (in this case a White American Naropa student) has the ability to give her power. This meaning changes the intention of the word and creates, as well as perpetuates, the notion of the “savior” who goes in to help the powerless victim. This was not my intention and I would not want to imply this by using the word “empower.” Consequently, I do see the value in examining appropriate language. However, I do not want to be so vigilant about using the appropriate word that I am afraid to express or communicate at all to people here and to the Cambodian people.
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines political correctness as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult certain racial or cultural groups” (Barber, 2001). As a group, the notion of “do no harm” has often come up, meaning if you are unsure of your intention or action, return to the principle of not doing harm to others. When sharing and exchanging with other cultures, some of the best experiences I’ve had have come from being open, curious, and respectful. I have certainly made mistakes when trying to understand one’s culture, but I have found that most people are forgiving if they see one is coming from a genuine place of curiosity and the desire to learn or understand. Connecting isn’t always about getting it right! The point is, it’s okay to make mistakes when working with people who may come from a different culture or religion. It is these mistakes which can often lead to greater understanding and awareness because we are not masking our ignorance with an attitude of all knowing expertise on a particular language or culture. Cultivating the right attitude is not just about using the right words; it’s also about cultivating the right intentions. As Bell Hooks (1994) beautifully states in her essay, Love as the Practice of Freedom, “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” Personally, my intention is to share Trauma-Informed Art Therapy® Skills with the people of Cambodia and to both learn and share as much as possible from the Cambodian people in the process, with an open heart.
Barber, K. (2001). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Ontario: Oxford University Press.
hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representations. New York, NY: Routledge.