Lessons in Love and Cultural Competency

My beautiful tabbyMy sweet cat is slowly fading. Her kidneys are failing, and she has almost entirely stopped eating. She’s been part of my being for 16 years and now I am watching as she slowly fades away.

Last night on Twitter, my friend Christine Egger wondered aloud, “If you hadn’t been taught you had dominion, how would you treat other species? If we hadn’t been taught that, would we be less likely to think we had dominion over other people? Their lives, their choices? What does “dominion over others” mean to you? How do you play it out? I think there’d be a huge part of me that would relax and celebrate more, if I could let that dominion stuff go…”

Which brings me to the learning community meeting we attended today – a lively session on Cultural Competency with a group of perhaps 30 individuals who consult to community benefit organizations. The facilitators/teachers did a great job of explaining cultural competency (or as they suggested, cultural “humility”). As we broke into 2’s and 4’s to discuss the issue, though, I was plagued by questions.

Why do we spend whole workshops and meetings reminding ourselves to listen, be present and respectful, appreciative of the hardships and joys and the histories of the people with whom we are working – why do we only consider those questions when we are relating to people whose ethnicity or race or gender or age is different from our own? Why do we only consider eliciting and building upon the wisdom of those who are perceived to be “different?”

Aren’t these approaches just as relevant with people of my own ethnic background? My race? My gender? My sexual orientation? Shouldn’t I be looking to elicit and build upon their wisdom as well?

And as consultants, why are we not asking how we can listen, be present, open, respectful, appreciative of the hardships and joys of our consulting clients? Why is it ok for consultants to assume they are smarter than the organizations who hire them, rather than helping to elicit the clients’ own wisdom, to guide them to their own success?

As spouses, as parents – is this not the way we want to be in our lives? Are the lessons of cultural competency not merely the lessons of living joyfully with others, period?

And I guess today, I am a bit more sensitive than I might otherwise be. Because today it is my cat who is trying desperately to share her being with me.  It is my job to listen to her, to appreciate her joys and her hardships. It is my job to be present, open to where she is within her own tiny being right now. As she fades slowly, it is my job to elicit her wisdom, to help guide her to what will be best for her.

That is what we do when we love one another.

Which brings me back to my conversation with my friend Christine last night on Twitter. I had suggested to Christine that I prefer a spirit of compassion rather than dominion. That “dominion” and “dominant” appear to share a linguistic root, and that I consider compassion to be more “alongside each other” than “one above the other.”

“Does compassion still have room for hierarchy?” Christine wondered. And then she answered her own question: “Perhaps only love doesn’t.”

The greatest sages of all time, from Jesus to the Buddha to modern day rabbis, teachers and bodhisattvas – they all instruct us to love one another. Tonight I am taking that lesson from the tiny being who has slept curled up beside me for the past 16 years.

We make distinctions and create walls at our peril – between cultures, between consultants and clients, between parents and children, between us humans and the rest of our animal brethren.

“Hate never dispelled hate; only love dispells hate.” That is what the Buddha told us thousands of years ago. “Love one another” Jesus told us shortly thereafter.

And all this time later, regardless of the group or the individuals each of us encounters in our lives, I cannot think of a circumstance where that is not the very best advice we can give or receive.

Photo is Max about 6 months ago

11 thoughts on “Lessons in Love and Cultural Competency”

  1. Oh my goodness, Hildy. I learn so much from you, and now this ~ new lessons with my own recent out-loud-wonderings woven through. What a gift.

    And as for where you haven taken us with this post, a resounding, “Yes!” Such a rich world we live in, opportunities to practice love everywhere we turn 🙂

  2. Hildy,

    I have a beautiful cat who came from animal rescue about 10 years ago. I can see her slowing down. All the power and dominance in the world will not keep her from, one day, slipping away. Love is the only thing that has the power to handle relationships – in the now – and at the time when we have to let go. And the time always come, when we will always have to let go. Dominion lies impotent in the face of this inevitable truth. Only love has the power to walk through. As your message tells us, this should be a very strong hint on how we handle all levels of relationships each day. I don’t need to dominate you. I only need to care about you.

    P.S. Please let your sweet cat know we love her too.

  3. Nichiren (a 13th century Japanese Buddhist) taught that all human suffering is ultimately cause by ignorance. Ignorance that all living beings are intimately linked to each other. And enlightenment, ultimately is an awareness of this expansive connection – within us and without.

    In this sense, you can’t “give” your cat anything she doesn’t already have. You can only savor this moment – together.

    What is your cat’s name?

  4. Many thanks to each of you – Christine and Ron and John. Max is having a good day today – eating and looking at me wondering what the big fuss is. She’s always been classically feline, and it is so curious to watch her change, to want only to be with me all the time, only to drink out of my water glass, only to eat off my fingers.

    And of course, John, you are correct – we really do not give anything to anyone, cat or anyone else. Except that we do give them our respect and our listening and our patience and our love – all creating the space for them to be their own best.

    Thanks for asking her name. It’s Max. And she is a girl.


  5. Once again you have reminded us all how interdependent we are – not just as humans, but as all living beings!

    Loving and supportive thoughts for you and Max as you travel together on this journey.

  6. Beautiful post, Hildy. I too have wondered how terribly damaging the idea of human dominion over the world has been, and how much better we can help the world be if we see all life as having intrinsic value. I listen to discussions about protecting the environment for the sake of future humans, and think that is a great reason but far from the only reason.

    I have yet to get to know an animal who wasn’t smart enough to understand and train me better than I could understand and train it.

    Max is almost ready to move on; wasn’t it great that he spent his lifetime with you!

  7. Oh Hildy. This is a lovely post. My fave phrase of yours:

    “That “dominion” and “dominant” appear to share a linguistic root, and that I consider compassion to be more “alongside each other” than “one above the other.””

    Beautiful line and a lesson worth remembering. Thank you!



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