Self-Awareness and Ethics

by Yoko Hisano

‘Am I projecting my bias and past experiences? Or am I being objective?’
One day, one of my student leaders, Fen*, was expressing concern over a fellow student, Hanna*, who was not fulfilling her obligations to help organize a student event; Hanna relied on others to do her assigned tasks. In discussing with Fen how to appropriately respond to her performance, I suggested confronting Hanna. Fen and I shared thoughts on the issue, and I came to realize that my comments may have been subjective ones. I had been taking a side due to my own intercultural experiences in a similar, former situation. My and Fen’s exploration of the subject highlighted the importance of challenging one’s views, and how greater self-awareness can help us all in navigating intercultural teams.

There is value to increasing our knowledge of another culture and learning about our clientele’s background. What if the information we gain is too general and not specific to our clientele? Can we say that knowing ourselves or having self-awareness is as equal to or, if not more, important?

Self-awareness in this case refers to going back to our foundation of who we are, why we do the things we do, and acknowledging that we have bias and past experiences that affect our interaction with others. We want our clientele and our colleagues to trust us when we communicate. If what I am saying doesn’t match how I am acting, do you think I can gain trust from others?  

In our everyday encounters with people, we project ourselves. To break it down even more, every single word that comes out of our mouth is a reflection of our knowledge and experienceundefinedknowledge and experience that we gained through formal and informal education at school and in society as well as exposure to media and family.

Simple enough but it’s easy to forget that these factors form our thought process and our views. Are we conscious of how much they influence our interactions? I believe that greater self-awareness is the first step of an effective interculturalist.   Quick formula for doing this is by asking yourself:
  • What do I base my idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ on?
  • What triggers me?
  • Is my action matching what I say?  
What did you notice? Were you able to connect with the deeper self by reflecting on your value system and past experiences? Would you not agree that we each have a unique past? Applying this to intercultural work, naturally, you will be interested in othersundefinednot just factual knowledge about others’ cultural backgrounds but who they really are. You will appreciate more of the intricacies of another individual yet also appreciate your own intricacies. You will stop focusing on generalized information about a certain culture and country but you will be more curious to learn about each individual’s unique background. This provides a sense of humility in your communication.  

In addition to self-awareness and awareness of others, patience is one more piece in this processundefinedpatience towards yourself and patience towards others in their learning; it is a continuing process. The beauty of our true nature is that we are capable of any kind of change that we desire. We each have our own pace. Some of us may be faster or slower in this process of gaining awareness. Taking as much time as we need to grow and being patient will allow us to be the interculturalist that we wish to be.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Yoko Hisano

Yoko Hisano, originally from Japan, has been an active Intercultural Educator for a decade.  In 2004, she came to the United States to pursue her Masters degree in International Education from the SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont. She currently works at International House at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

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