Humility is universally applicable

Yesterday I had the privilege of moderating a plenary panel discussion at the Thames Valley Family Health Team’s annual spring conference. The purpose of the panel was to share stories about patient experience. Four storytellers recounted personal moments when the healthcare system blossomed beautifully or failed miserably in response to an individual struggling with mental illness, addiction, depression, or post-traumatic stress.

I left the session with two salient points at front of mind. This post is a brief reflection on the first takeaway.

Listening to the panelist’s stories, it occurred to me that the concept of cultural humility has relevance beyond the domain and context of intercultural interactions. (Brief review: cultural humility is the idea that approaching an individual from another culture in a spirit of humble curiosity paves the way for a constructive therapeutic or clinical relationship. Now, juxtapose this approach of gentle inquiry with walking into the room thinking that you are aware of another person’s needs, beliefs, worldview, and convictions because you graduated from the ‘cultural competency’ course over the weekend.)

Conscientious, intentional, self-doubting humility is not only crucial in intercultural exchanges: the ethos transposes seamlessly when listening to individuals struggling with addiction or other psychological complexities. Assuming to know ‘the answer’ to another’s situation because you have a clinical category for their condition is something like ‘psychologicalism’ — similar to the way that a racist assumes to know particular facts about another person based on specific physical characteristics or ethnic appearances.

It is interesting to think about the ways that ‘cultural humility’ might be taken up as ‘clinical humility’ or in a broader sense. But creating more jargon is not the point: figuring out how we can inspire one another towards greater humility — and the curious, individual-centric inquisitiveness it fosters — is the bottom line.

It boils down to a question: as a healthcare system, how do we treat individual people as individual persons? The second takeaway from yesterday’s session follows from this question. It’s a reflection about the bottlenecks and potentials of bureaucracies. Will post shortly.

An even more interesting question

The question, ‘Is all truth relative and subjective?’ is a very interesting question.

The question, ‘Can a social contract defined by the relativity and subjectivity of truth sustain a society?’ is an even more interesting question.

Critical Thinking: A Cheatsheet

  1. What would it take to convince me that I am wrong? (Falsifiability)

  2. How could I empirically prove the exact opposite of what I suspect to be true? (Null hypothesis)

  3. How could someone else argue that my position is illogical or irrational? (Self-debate)

  4. Who benefits the most when I hold this belief? (Critical discourse analysis)

  5. How would a rational person who holds an opposing viewpoint explain and justify their position? (Empathy)

  6. Can I conceptualize an alternative position that does not yield a binary ‘true or false’ dichotomy? (Non-dualism)

  7. How does my position and experience in society inform my assumptions and perspective? (Reflexive intersectionality)

  8. What unconscious mental shortcuts can I identify in my reasoning and rationale? (Cognitive bias mitigation)

  9. How can I guard myself against the illusion that I am reasoning objectively? (Skepticism)

  10. What beliefs have I already unconsciously accepted in order to arrive at my present position? (Presuppositions, tacit assumptions)

  11. What do the words that I use to express my beliefs connote implicitly that they do not denote explicitly? (Semantics, pragmatics)

  12. What are the psychological, social, institutional, or cultural costs of changing my mind? (Motivated reasoning)

  13. How would my identity be threatened if my beliefs or reasoning were shown to be flawed? (Externalize epistemology)

  14. If faced with sufficient counter-evidence, would I care about truth enough to abandon my present beliefs? (Ideological commitments)

  15. Who is framing, shaping, and informing the questions that I can even think to ask? (Social influence)

  16. What questions am I most afraid to ask? (Courage)