She didn’t get it. Her college daughter likes country music. Why not the rhythm and blues or jazz associated with her cultural and family background?
But then Dr. Nicole Cross was sent on an assignment as a news anchor for Spectrum News 1 in Austin, Texas, to cover the red carpet for the CMT Music Awards held there recently.
She interviewed the country stars about the appeal of country music and was awakened by their replies on the art of storytelling and emotional connections in their music. Backstage she called her daughter.
“You know, I get it,” she said.
“I’m so happy you opened yourself up and tried something different,” her daughter replied.
Cross, the keynote speaker of Grand Canyon University’s Sixth Annual Behavioral Health Conference on Monday, said it was an example of the value of exposure and experiencing new things.
“... So that you can have a level of understanding, a level of appreciation, a level of respect, a level of empathy for others who are on a different path, who have had a different experience or who happen to like different things than you prefer.”
Cross’ talk, “Cultural Humility: Embracing What You Don’t Know,” was aimed at the approximately 250 who attended the virtual conference and are in behavioral health fields or studying them. But the message was universal.
“The process of cultural humility helps mitigate implicit bias, that part of us that is unconsciously a part of us, that grew in us, that develops over time, that we learned through experience,” she said. “We can’t avoid bias or hatred, no more than can we avoid the fact that the majority of counselors are white and many clients are not.
“We have to learn to work with people who are different than ourselves. We have to be willing to acknowledge those differences and move forward in a healthy way. Cultural humility can promote empathy for others.”
Cross worked for nearly two decades as a psychotherapist before switching to journalism because she thought she could reach more people with stories that helped the lives of sufferers or helped change public policy. But she remains active in the field as a lecturer and online instructor at GCU.
She laid out the problem journalistically, citing several hate crime stories in just a few days in March and producing statistics from justice.gov which showed nearly 7,000 bias incidences of hate reported.
“Imagine,” she asked, “if you were on the receiving end of bias or hate?”
The problem is most hold implicit bias, attitudes based on past experiences or associations, media portrayals or upbringing, that can live inside us with little conscious thought – even a bias toward favoring the attractive or the wealthy. She calls them “mental shortcuts.”
“It’s the unwiring. If you can learn it, you can unlearn it. And learn something that is heathier for you. And that’s what cultural humility can do,” she said. “It starts with ourselves before we can be of service to our clients or others. We first have to check ourselves.”
Reflecting on our biases is a lifelong process.
“The learning does not stop. We are constantly evolving, so our learning about people has to evolve as well,” Cross said. “We have signed up to help others as a profession, so that process has to include self- reflection. Why did I automatically think that? Why did I say that? Where did that come from? It’s a part of being humble. That not knowing.
“It’s OK to not have it all figured out.”
The second part is recognizing power imbalances.
“There is inherent power in being a therapist, a counselor, a mentor, a coach, a consultant. The title alone comes with a sense of power. You have individuals who are looking to you for guidance.
“How do you balance it all out? That’s what you need to be mindful of. Check the power imbalances. You have to be mindful of including the client in the process so they can own their experience.”
It goes beyond the therapist's office.
“Maintaining a humble attitude helps the individuals you are interacting with feel seen or heard. Understand that this can be applied ... not just for work or as a student but is applicable in your personal life.”
Cultural humility is being aware that you can’t know everything about another’s culture. “You don’t even know everything about your own culture. I identify as African American, but I don’t espouse that all African Americans think and move and function like I do.”
The conference, titled “Fostering Human Flourishing in a Transforming World,” was another effort in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Behavioral Health programs to understand the needs of mental health globally.
It included numerous breakout sessions on emotional well-being, trauma, stress and human flourishing.
“You could feel the excitement and high level of interests during the breakout sessions where people collaborated on different topics surrounding mental health. We had social workers, counselors and students all coming together to focus on the topic of human flourishing in a transforming world,” said Christopher Ogaz, Graduate Counseling Programs Manager, who helped organize the event. “This conference continues to grow each year and showcases the University’s missional values through impact and service.”
It concluded with a relevant question to Cross: "What do you do when encountering bigotry and hate?"
“I go big in the opposite direction,” she said. “If someone is making a comment on someone’s race or sexual orientation ... I say, ‘I’m just so glad God loves all people. I’m just so glad I don’t have to be anybody’s judge because, let me tell you something, I would get it wrong.’”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.