This past Monday, May 21, we celebrated World Day for Cultural Diversity, a UN declared holiday recognizing the value in diversity. Never heard of it? Perhaps you know it better by its more formal name: World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
Still doesn’t ring a bell?
Yes. Folks do not typically clamor for information on cultural differences. We like our culture familiar.
But do hang in.
Those of you who have followed me over these past six years may recall that I began with posts on cultural differences, particularly on those unconscious behaviors we fall into simply because we have always done them; we’ve never given much thought to why we continue to do them. These intrigue me.
- Why do we shake hands when we meet new people? Not everyone around the world does this you know.
- Who decides what topics should be private and which ones public? You’d be amazed!
- What does direct eye contact mean? Again, it depends.
- How far ahead do you extend a social invitation?
- What’s insulting?
And, those of you who follow me on Facebook may recall that I spent the weekend not long ago at a workshop on increasing the diversity of my Vermont woods. For, you see, diversity in the wild leads to a healthier woods, wildlife, or garden, no matter the size.
A quick digression here to recognize yesterday, May 22, as International Day for Biological Diversity “when we acknowledge and remember the immense value of diverse life on Planet Earth.” For a good compilation of features on biological diversity around the world, check out Voices for Biodiversity DOT org where their tag line is Enhancing Biodiversity Conservation through Storytelling, Collaboration, Community, and Advocacy.
Cultural diversity is no different.
Yes, it’s true. Turns out cultural diversity is good for business, good for development, good for the environment, and good for the intellect.
UNESCO’s website talks of “the powerful contribution culture can make to the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development….”
Yeah, yeah, I hear some of you saying. That’s all warm and fuzzy. But why should I care about strangers, people so very different from me? They make me uncomfortable.
Perhaps that’s why conversations that are supposed to be on cultural diversity — cultural DIFFERENCES — often wind up emphasizing how, at our core, we are all alike. Like my current Facebook cover photo:
I’m not saying we’re not different at our core, of course. (NOTE the excellent use of the double negative here, English majors.) I’m only wanting to keep us focused on those differences that distinguish us, that matter. Yes, to celebrate those differences that make us, well, … different.
Around the world there are persistent differences in
- how people sound (the languages they speak)
- how people look (their ways of dress)
- how people treat each other (shared concepts of morality)
- how they organize themselves (various political systems)
- how they interact with their environment (their behaviors)
- what they believe about the life and death
I’m not Muslim, but I’m really curious what it might mean to you to be Muslim. I’m no longer evangelical, but I’m interested in why you may be. I like to stand about 30 inches from the person I’m talking to; can you help me appreciate what it means to you to stand so much closer/farther? I’d love to get a better grasp of proportional representation and understand why our forefathers didn’t go in that direction when setting up our system of government.
I could go on all night here. There are so many differences that, to me, are simply curiosities. Why do Spanish tapas bars come alive at 10 pm when I’m ready to go to sleep? Actually, that one I’m not that curious about. Not at ten o’clock at night.
Still, it’s the exposure to those differences that enables us to examine anew (or for the first time perhaps) our way of being in the world.
We must do more than tolerate differences. I believe it’s in celebrating those differences that we can live in peace and (for some, more importantly) prosperity.
UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, writes on their website, “Yet, the role of culture in creating green jobs, reducing poverty, making cities more sustainable, providing safe access to water and food, preserving the resources of the oceans and forests, and strengthening the resilience of communities in the face of disasters, is truly major and irreplaceable.”
To make that happen, UNESCO has committed to “placing culture at the heart of our strategies.”
What happens if we don’t?
We fear what we don’t know. Words like chauvinism, nationalism, nativism, prejudice, racial intolerance, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia creep daily into our lives.
It’s time to encourage diversity in our woods, yes; our gardens, certainly. But also in our classrooms, work places, neighborhoods, and places of worship.
How about you? Why do you think it’s hard to get people interested in cultural differences?
NEXT WEEK: A fifth Wednesday: It’s a Bloggers For Peace post
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