My Peace Corps service as a school and community volunteer was pivotal in learning to practice and embody cultural humility. I was charged with transitioning teachers from corporal punishment to learner-centered education, building educational programs for the community, and bringing the community into the school. To do any of these things, I first had to learn the history, culture, and ways of the community. I gained trust by forming relationships and listening and learning from the people before attempting to facilitate change. Gradually, I built trust and began to be invited to share my ways. There were many missteps along the way which I count as blessings because the lesson of cultural humility is that it is a life-long commitment that won’t always be pretty.
One day while in Namibia, I got on a bus that I hoped would take me to the capital city. I rushed on and asked the driver if the bus went to Windhoek. He looked at me, paused, and told me I needed to greet him before launching into my request. Like a scolded child I apologized and started again, this time by looking at him and speaking. Once we exchanged greetings he told me I was in the right place.
That experience humbled me. It hurt. I was embarrassed, but the larger lesson changed me for the better. I now pause to connect with everyone. I check in with their humanity before asking something of them. We’ve been taught to treat others as objects for our use, which needs to be unlearned.