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Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D.

Cultural Humility

We can improve our relationships with other cultures.


In the summer of 2016, I was in a cab in Yokohama, Japan, trying to use the few Japanese phrases I know. The Japanese cab driver must have detected from my accent that I was an American. He asked me in English about the presidential candidates in my country. He knew about both candidates. And he knew much more about my culture than I knew about his. I was humbled.

The United States also has been humbled by one of the presidential candidates we discussed in Japan. In a Washington Post poll, nearly half of Americans think the country's leadership in the world has gotten weaker under President Trump. Only about one in four think the country’s leadership in the world has gotten stronger.

The world is even less supportive. In a Pew survey, only 22% of people in 37 countries have confidence in President Trump to do the right thing in world affairs. Perhaps our leader’s lack of humility has led to our country’s humiliation.

President Trump isn’t the only American who lacks humility on the world stage. Americans have long enjoyed their status as the leaders of the free world. We expect others to follow us and learn our culture. American exceptionalism excuses us from having to learn anyone else’s culture. My experience in Japan is a good example.

Research has demonstrated that a lack of humility is associated with xenophobia. Xenophobia is a fear and hatred of foreigners. In contrast, humility is associated with xenophilia. Xenophilia is an attraction to foreign cultures.

So, what does humility look like? According to psychologists, cultural humility includes being:

  • Respectful
  • Considerate
  • Interested in learning more
  • Open-minded

A lack of cultural humility includes:

  • Making assumptions about others
  • Being a know-it-all
  • Acting superior
  • Thinking one understands more than one actually does

Research indicates that cultural humility improves relationships between people from different backgrounds. Americans can improve their relationships with people from other cultures, too. Be respectful, considerate, and open-minded. And before you take a cab ride in another country, learn about that country’s language and culture.


Barbarino, M. L., & Stürmer, S. (2016). Different origins of xenophile and xenophobic orientations in human personality structure: A theoretical perspective and some preliminary findings. Journal of Social Issues, 72, 432-449.

Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington Jr, E. L., & Utsey, S. O. (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 353-366. doi: 10.1037/a0032595

Marsella, A. J. (2011). The United States of America: “A culture of war”. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 714-728.

About the Author

Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon with a focus in culture and mental health.