Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence

Layer 8: Other values and beliefs – Example 1


I have a long list of social and political issues that I care about, many of which I actively monitor and advocate on, including women’s rights (pro-choice, pay equity, access to birth control, equal representation in health research, etc.), LGBTQ/gay marriage rights, anti-racism/minority rights, immigration reform/border control, health care reform, animal rights, gun reform…this list could go on and on. As such, I will focus on three issues relevant to current events in the early years of the Trump Administration: 1) abortion rights, 2) LGBTQ rights, and 3) racism.


Context Setting:

I worked for a leader in the Democratic Party for well over a decade, and continue to be politically and social active in my daily life. I was drawn to American University’s MSOD program because of its commitment to social justice. Similarly, I chose my current employer for its award-winning commitment to diversity and inclusion, community development/ philanthropy, and sustainability. I fit the stereotypical profile of an ENFJ as a values-based idealist who is ambitiously driven to help others and make the world a better place.

Abortion Rights – I have been pro-choice since high-school; however, the nuances of what this meant changed over the years. During my first year in college, I opposed a minor’s ability to have an abortion without parental consent and voted for then-pro-life candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential election. By the time I graduated from college, I had expanded my Pro-Choice position and shifted my political allegiance to the Democratic Party. I am a staunch advocate for a women’s right to choose – at any age – what happens to her body. I also believe it is important to support policies aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies, such as comprehensive sex education and access to birth control, because this is a mutual interest regardless of your position on abortion.


Context Setting:

I grew up in a wealthy Republican stronghold in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. My Catholic mother was very vocal about being Pro-Life. Despite this, I formed a Pro-Choice stance in high school. California Republicans are notorious for their left-leaning views on social issues like abortion. Being born on the Generation X/Millennial cusp, I grew up watching MTV and shows like Models Inc. and Beverly Hills 90210. The liberal influence of Hollywood also extended to me geographically, so I was regularly exposed to people with far-left views. Aside from my mother’s Pro-Life stance, I do not remember talking to my parents about politics at all. I did, however, talk about politics with my two significantly older Republican brothers, hence my vote for President G.W. Bush – which incidentally caused my Democratic father much distress that subsequently led to lots of political discussions with him!

LGBTQ Rights – My evolution on LGBTQ rights follows a trajectory of passive support during my formative years to one of advocacy and activism starting in my early 20s. In high school and college, I viewed gay rights in the context of protection against hate crimes. Once I started working in politics, and even more so, when I witnessed discrimination against my LGTBQ friends firsthand, I became a heterosexual ally fighting for LGBTQ equality and protection from discrimination in employment, housing, private or public services, and public places, including restrooms. I believe that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry and that sexual orientation or gender identity should not affect a person’s legal ability to be a parent and adopt children. Lastly, I think the inability for gay men to donate blood is an archaic policy from the 1980s AIDS epidemic that detrimental to public health and must be repealed.


Context Setting:

Being born in the early 1940s, my parents are members of the Silent Generation, the least supportive generation for gay rights. However, their influence on this issue was diminished by my California upbringing and the heavy influence of my older Generation X siblings. On October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tortured, and left to die because of his sexual preference. This terrible hate crime against a young man who was not much older than me solidified my conscious support of the gay community. Still this support did not move beyond the surface until my I had direct experiences of hate. For example, in 2004, when I answered phones for a regional office of a federal elected official, I was bombarded for weeks with angry callers raging against the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA). Until the current climate on race relations, I had never experienced even a fraction of the vitriol and hate that people were spewing at me. It was terrifying, eye-opening, and mobilizing.

Racism– “I don’t see color.” Like many, this is something I said as a young white female full of good intentions and in full denial that I could harbor racist or discriminatory views. The first time I came face to face with my privilege was in college during a discussion on affirmative action. From there, I sought opportunities to learn how I could become a white ally and fight institutionalized racism. Statistics show that racism affects a person’s health status, incarceration rates, employment, education, and so on, but racism is everywhere, every day. Racism is reflected in who speaks, what is said, who is in the room, who is not, who is at the center of power, who is at the center of attention, and so much more. I believe that systemic, structural, and individual changes in political, economic, and social life are required to dismantle and end racism. Being a white ally means that I am committed to speaking up and taking a stand when I see injustice, supporting the leadership of people of color, and talking with other people, especially children and teens, about racism.


Context Setting:

The California town I grew up in had an ethnic breakdown of 68% White, 18% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 1% Black, and 3% Mixed or Other. My college had a breakdown of 39% Asian, 37% White, 13% Other/Undeclared, 10% Hispanic, 1% Black, and <1% Native American. It took years of diversity and multi-cultural competency training in the University of California school system, workplace, and American University MSOD program for me to fully understand, accept, and commit to changing my racial and other biases…and, I am still learning.



Switching from identifying as a Republican to a Democrat, having family members on both sides of the aisle, and working in politics all contribute to my keen ability to focus on common interests (preventing unwanted pregnancies) rather than positions (Pro-Choice). This means that I am more likely to seek compromise or search for win-win solutions. In reading the above, I am reminded of the powerful role that inquiry, curiosity, and humility play in strategic interpersonal relations. Finally, because I have such strong and well-defined values I must be very aware of how they come into play when I deal with clients who have opposing values. For example, when working with a South African client in the past, I struggled with the need for a male member of my team to lead our conversation. Initially, I felt this was too great of a compromise for gender equality in the workplace, however, after much contemplation, I came to realize that in respecting my client’s culture in this regard, I was holding myself accountable to the commitment I made them to as a consultant. Who spoke first was minor in comparison to the work that could be done.



My first thought upon completing this exercise is that it is very clear the decade I spent working in the legislative branch of the federal government for a leader in the Democratic Party heavily influenced the breadth and depth of my views! Furthermore, I did the UCL exercise when I was in the American University MSOD program, but until now, I did not realize the extent to which my views on social and political issues have factored into my everyday life over the course of my lifetime. What I do for a living, where I work, who I spend my time with, what I read every morning, and so much more is and has been anchored in my values-system. Revisiting my entire UCL has been incredibly rewarding and self-affirming exercise, but in reviewing this lens, I am reminded of how often I tend to suffer from imposter syndrome. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from someone I deeply admire and respect as an expert in their field is that it is never helpful to pretend you know about something you do not. This inspired leader showed me that the best leaders ask questions, seek help, and surround themselves with people who are smarter than them.