Developing from Cultural Competence to Cultural Reverence: The Journey to the Summit of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Black Elk Peak – formerly Mt. Harney

The concept of Cultural Competence has been explored and discussed for many years. And yet, the need for more awareness, sensitivity, and connection is something we’ve hungered for as evolving human beings.


Over the last several decades, those working in services sectors who have begun recognizing the humanity in each person with whom they interact, have seen the importance of developing “cultural competence”. But is that really the sole end goal? Is it possible to become “competent” in recognizing and understanding the needs of ever-evolving individuals and ethnic groups, or does embracing diversity go deeper than that?  We believe it goes deeper.


At Share Collaborative, we think of the journey to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as an ongoing commitment to learning, healing and growth. We view developing cultural competency as the initial, historical step in the journey, but it’s certainly not the only step or a one-answer resolution. Here’s how we invite you to consider the journey to diversity, equity, and inclusion as we move from a place where we develop cultural competence toward the mountain peak of cultural reverence for ourselves, those within our organization, those we serve, and all the humans with whom we share this lovely blue ball we call Earth.


We know some of you prefer to listen in on us chatting through what we have to say and so if that is you – here is the conversation, Jojopah, Noor, Tatiana, Harold and Shawn had on the concepts shared below:



Starting Out: Developing Cultural Competence as the Base Camp to the Summit


At its core, the concept of Cultural Competence has provided a foundation on which to begin our journey toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI. Because the idea has formed over time, it’s grown and evolved. Organizations have learned, created policies, gathered groups, and started movements based on the concept of Cultural Competence.


But rather than viewing it as a goal or outcome, we view Cultural Competence as the base camp or jumping-off point for our journey to the summit. It’s also important to realize that the summit, or end-goal, is ever-changing and evolving in an ongoing process. The basic framework of Cultural Competence urges us to learn and explore other cultures. It indicates respectful investment and preparation for our more significant journey ahead.


From the basecamp of developing Cultural Competence, we can evolve and transcend movement to movement as we learn alongside each other, individually and in our communities. Developing Cultural Competence is a necessary first step, but it’s only the beginning.


Today’s vision of DEI goes beyond developing Cultural Competency to include acceptance and experience of our diverse global human community. On our journey, we must shed the pretense of one-size-fits-all solutions and let go of labeling behavior as the sum of a person or the groups with whom they identify. To truly enact growth and change, we must individualize our approach to human services. To do so effectively requires moving on from the idea that we have sufficient understanding or knowledge about an individual, a community, or an ethnic/cultural group. Instead, we pursue an ongoing, ever-increasing experiential learning and understanding of the depth of cultural diversity, experience, and wisdom toward a place of reverence.

Understanding from Cultural Competence to Cultural Reverence


The journey from Cultural Competence to Cultural Reverence is lifelong and continuous. It’s not a concept we can learn in a course or even during a full healing focused care training program. At the same time, it’s crucial to our development as effective service providers and human beings.


Our journey evolves with each experience and human interaction. It may help to think of it as climbing a mountain or going on a trek. To understand the path, it’s helpful to explore and define the steps from Cultural Competence to Cultural Humility to Cultural Reverence.

Cultural Competence…

…is the individual and organizational ability to create and use policies, appropriately trained and skilled employees, and specialized resources to systematically anticipate, recognize, and respond to the varying expectations of clients, customers, and co-workers of diverse backgrounds.

 Cultural Humility…

…is not an endpoint, but a commitment and active engagement in a lifelong process that individuals enter on an ongoing basis with participants, communities, colleagues, and themselves.

Cultural Reverence…

… is the capacity to relate to, learn from and accept persons traditionally labeled “different” or “other.”  Cultural Reverence is grounded in the belief that there are no “disposable” people because there is no “other”.  All have value.  All have purpose.  A culturally reverent person values diversity and practices inclusivity because it generates our mutual human growth and development so that we may all achieve + experience equity.


“A true community begins in the hearts of the people involved. It is not a place of distraction but a place of being.” – Malidoma Patrice Somé, “Ritual: Power, Healing and Community

Cultural Humility: Trail Markers to the Summit


The framework of Cultural Humility provides the learning and navigational “trail markers” for the journey toward the summit of DEI. Four principles serve as the trail markers of Cultural Humility:

  1. Self-Reflection + Life-long Learning
  2. Served Person as Expert
  3. Served Community as Expert
  4. Institutional Reflection, Investment, and Modeling


Understanding, practicing, and using these principles effectively requires commitment. Rather than taking a course on developing Cultural Humility or reading the latest book on the topic, learners must commit and agree to an ongoing practice. With each new experience comes realizations, fresh insight, and opportunities to grow, learn, and more deeply understand.


The journey to Cultural Humility requires a commitment to:

  • Examining our explicit (known) and implicit (unknown) biases through introspection and contemplation. This process includes exploring one’s family of origin, ancestry, life experiences, youth, upbringing, and more.
  • Learning to grow beyond our implicit biases to avoid unconscious prejudicial behavior, including racism, sexism, orientation-ism, ageism, and other bias-based conduct.
  • Going beyond our fears to show up fully and hold space for others who are also navigating their path to the summit.
  • Providing authentic, ongoing opportunities for served persons and their communities to voice their wants, needs, and desires. Effectively validating that their voice has been demonstratively responded to in a consistent, substantive, and meaningful manner.
  • Growing organizational culture and capacity to prize people above profit, ensuring that diverse, multiple identity lenses are included within the organization’s development of DEI policies.
  • Addressing organizational power imbalances by creating new opportunities for inclusivity by establishing clear pathways to realize diverse leadership teams.


While the people within an organization may not be able to address every item in every action, it’s crucially important that all organization members—leadership and staff—commit to the journey and take steps to progress toward an ongoing, sustained practice.

Cultural Reverence: Sustaining Our Journey to the Summit

If developing Cultural Competency forms the basecamp for our journey, and Cultural Humility serves as the trail markers to ascend to the summit, Cultural Reverence is the oxygen tank. As mountaineers know, oxygen is crucial for survival, helping them continue to explore the summit.


So, what is true Cultural Reverence? We can think of Cultural Reverence as an aspirational pathway—a never-ending trek to the summit of Equity + Inclusion. The goal is to value the “other” as one values themselves. Again, it’s our capacity to relate to others, learn from them, and accept them—persons who some may traditionally label as different or “other.” In Cultural Reverence, there are no disposable people because there is no “other.”  Everyone has value.  Everyone has purpose.


A Culturally Reverent person values diversity, equity, and inclusivity because it is part of mutual human growth and development. The concept holds the promise that every human can achieve and experience equity.

Cultural Reverence recognizes the following universal truths:

  • All humans are unique, and we’re more alike than different at the core of our existence.
  • We’re a global community made rich with diverse identities—what happens to any human impacts us all.
  • Identity consists of multiple cultural allegiances and values. These concepts may emerge from our family and community of origin (or our adopted family and community), the environment where we grow up, life experience, and on.
  • The matrix of identity is uniquely manifested in each human. No one person or group of people is better than any person or group. Any service provider in any realm must place themselves in the space of constant learning, rather than the misleading space of knowing, so that they can effectively individualize services.
  • The end goal of all efforts is to achieve equity for all so all may experience belonging. A Culturally Reverent person can’t participate nor actively or passively condone practices and systems that are biased, exclusionary, or unequal because they understand everyone and everything as part of themselves.


We strengthen our Cultural Reverence practice by learning this new thought paradigm, which is the intersection of emotional, moral, and spiritual intelligence. This path leads to our mutual human evolution toward higher consciousness.


Rather than thinking of developing Cultural Competency as an end-goal, we are invited to shift our thinking to see it as the first step on a path to a higher, greater peak. Developing our Cultural Competency is the base—the minimum foundation for us to begin our journey to reverence.


“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”

Hehaka Sapa (Nicholas Black Elk) from “Black Elk Speaks”


Again, if you’d like to listen in on us chatting through these concepts, click here to watch the conversation Jojopah, Noor, Tatiana, Harold and Shawn had on the concepts.


The mountain is steep, and the journey is continuous. Fortunately, guides along the path can help you gain a deeper, more robust understanding of the markers, the route, and direction. At Share Collaborative, we seek to accompany you and your organization along the trail. We believe the first step starts with exploratory dialogue. Please contact us today to set your organization on its path forward.

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