As I was writing my Elegant Leadership blog about the poor choice of language from Michael Steele, of the Republican Party, I was reminded of a powerful scenario from a Leadership in Action program I led years ago.
There was a group of 24 business people from various organizations who gathered together for a week to understand leadership capabilities from an experiential perspective.
My husband Herb and I took the group through a variety of exercises in the Santa Fe area where we live. They were introduced to a variety of Native American teachers, and had the opportunity to do the ancient coil method of making pottery, drumming for long periods of time in a constant tapping manner, (what the Native Americans call connecting to the heart beat of mother earth), participating in a sweat lodge led by Felipe Ortega, an Apache who is both a superb potter, as well as a great teacher.
We then went up to the Taos Pueblo and met with Bernadette Roberts and spent time in her grandmother’s home where she told beautiful stories about her family, past and present.
It was an enriching experience that was capped when the entire group decided to spend a day helping Bernadette’s brother build his new home rather than go shopping in town. The next day we had a final “goodbye” circle. Here is where the power of people reaching out to people in a new and more meaningful way left its mark.
Each person had an opportunity to say what they had learned and what they would take back to their respective companies (and families). Bernadette asked to speak. She was obviously holding back tears and we all waited for her to compose herself. Then what was waiting to be said poured forth:
“I was reluctant to meet with you, a group of business people from the fancy East Coast. I don’t trust you. I don’t mean individually, I mean collectively. I don’t trust you white people, and that includes you in the group who are dark skinned also. We Native Americans stay pretty close to our own kind. Yet, to be honest, I needed the money you would provide so I said yes to have you come to the pueblo.
I saw all your expensive western wear, your turquoise jewelry, and I smirked at your superficiality. That is until yesterday. I wondered what your ulterior motive was when you all wanted to help my brother. I was mad at him. I asked if he guilted you into helping. He assured me he just mentioned what he was doing and several began to ask questions about the way we build in the old tradition. They wanted to help, he assured me.
And then, as the day went on and it was New Mexico hot, hot like stifling hot in the sun and no where to get relief and get the work done, and no one complained. Then I began to listen as some of you talked about yourselves. I was shocked at some of the stories of difficulty and even despair that I heard. You all look so…well so put together.
I couldn’t sleep last night. I was ashamed at myself for the anger and hurt I had been harboring. I know some of it was from stories my grandmother and the elders from the pueblo have told. Stories of embarrassment, of feeling shamed when they went into town.
Yet, with you I feel…” and this is where Bernadette began to let the pent up tears stream. “With you I feel safe, cared about, included, and appreciated.”
That was it. The tears flowed; the part inside that had been frozen began to defrost. The women in the group looked for tissues; the men wiped their eyes on their sleeves.
It is years later, and many who were in that special experiential leadership program have kept in touch with Bernadette, and all have taken their new learning about cultural sensitivity with them as they have advanced in their careers.
How does a knowledge of cultural sensitivity affect your career planning?
It’s really a touching article which give us a lesson that we should not discriminate anyone.
How strong of an influence would you say your family had on your cultural understranding/sensitivity today?
Very worthy blog post A person who is culturally sensitive and you can say is aware that there could be differences between their culture and another person’s culture , and that these differences could affect their relationship and the way they communicate with each other.is effective very informative blog post thanks…
Should cultural sensitivity and diversity become a part of the critical reflection?
It is a great skill to have to go and meet people and be aware of their cultures and customs. Doing that little bit of research before a meeting really goes a long way in securing business relationships.
Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I didn’t realize how insensitively I have been behaving. I assure you that I will make every effort to change the way I react toward this group.
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Hey Sylvia, as always a very informed and useful blog post. Cultural sensitivity is more important than ever these days…
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Most people are sensitive to other people’s differences. It seems that the insensitive among us are the ones that get recognized because they stand out in a crowd. As in politics: the silent majority vs. the (insensitive) vocal minority.
That reaches to the heart of all prejudices, hate and just about everything else…..beliefs.
You got to seek out the truth for yourself and you’ll be surprised what you will find in the most unlikely of places.
Lovely lovely, leadership is the way to go – thanks!
This is a heart warming story, native Americans don’t trust white people because of the rivalries and the wars they have been on the early years. I think that your movement is the best way to bridge the gap between natives and modern people and let them excell and advance in the culture, but still we need to respect what they believe because it was there since the start.
My first time too. Just finished creating my first Cultural Sensitivity training. Will add this for the class to read. Awesome! thanks for sharing. My next training design is leadership. Might use it there too if it’s okay with Sylvia.
Really super post, I have really enjoyed it. Your blogs are always great Sylvia.
What an amazing experience, i hope i get a chance to do something similar.
This is a very heartwarming story. We must be aware and accept the other cultures. Let us try to understand their cultures and try not to discriminate anyone.. I gain a knowledge from your story.