Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?

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? 

 

With thanks to TheFix.com for the image

 

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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27 Responses

  1. susan scott
    | Reply

    I’m reminded of Bishop Michael Curry, the Episcopal preacher from Chicago whose sermon at the Royal wedding this past Saturday blew me away. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” was his theme – as it is in all religions or philosophies. His fiery sermon told it like it is. Welcome the stranger into your heart/h and home. Broaden, widen, deepen one’s ‘way of being in the world’ and therefore of others … Thanks Janet, lovely post!
    susan scott recently posted…#AtoZ Lilith April Blog Challenge Reflections PostMy Profile

    • Kelly Boyer Sagert
      | Reply

      That’s what I always go back to — the importance of love. Interestingly enough, I’m finishing up writing a book about how Lorain (my hometown) became known as the International City. I’m trying to think about how to write a section about melting pot assimilation and holding on to one’s cultural identity among others with different identities.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I love posting so early each week for the next I get to wake up to Comments from those on the other side of the world. Thanks for starting us off today, Susan. Wasn’t Bishop Curry’s sermon spectacular! An uplifting positive and inspirational day all around. It gave me both a respite from all the unrelenting negativity of our news of late and hope for the future.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  2. Woody Starkweather
    | Reply

    These are excellent thoughts of the “Words to Live By” kind. At the risk of being a little wonky, I want to add that cultural and biological diversity are more than just parallel; they are closely related. For example, Asians are more likely to be lactose intolerant, and Asian cuisines eschew milk. Which came first? Who cares? They go together. As for greetings — handshakes, cheek-kissing, hand-kissing, etc., they all share the characteristic of sharing a small quantity of microbes so that the greeters become more resistant to the same diseases. Sort of “welcome to my germs.” Icky, but communal.

  3. Carolyn
    | Reply

    I wonder if it is more a highlight in the United States? From what I see of Europe, people move so much between countries (even if only for their annual vacation) that much of the diversity is accepted at face-level. You eat at 10p.m. in Spain? No problem. You take your dog into the restaurant? That’s fine as long as s/he doesn’t eat my dinner. You kiss on one or 2 cheeks or near by? Go with the flow.

    • Kelly Boyer Sagert
      | Reply

      Last year, I was talking to a white man from the United States who married a black woman from Brazil. When her family came up to visit, they were somewhat unpleasantly surprised by the prejudices against interracial marriage in the US as compared to their own country.
      Kelly Boyer Sagert recently posted…Value of Attending Christian Writers ConferencesMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I love that dogs get to go into restaurants throughout Europe. Last time woody and I were there we vowed to return with our dog, the greyhound Merlin at the time. Alas. You make a great point too, Carolyn. I think it’s also why Europeans generally know a number of other languages, while Americans (and Russians too, I quickly add) tend to disdain foreign language learning. It’s not usually taught here until high school, and then only as a prerequisite to getting into college. But throughout Europe, it’s important to be multi-lingual. I think size of the country is pertinent here, isolation from the “other.” Good idea to chew on; thanks.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — This thought-filled post brought to mind a quote I shared on my blog several weeks ago. It’s worth sharing again:

    “We’ve been led to believe that the goal of equality is to somehow make differences disappear yet, in reality, it is to be profoundly aware of them and to recognize them as beautiful and valuable and necessary. The virtue is not in ignoring our various distinctions, but in celebrating them; not in pretending as though they don’t exist, but in believing that their existence makes us a better version of humanity as we live together in community.” —JOHN PAVLOVITZ
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted…CommunityMy Profile

  5. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    I was unaware of this celebration, but like it. I have to wonder if the way to introduce cultural diversity to Americans is via food. I mean, have you looked around lately? We are a people who like to eat. And if you can hook someone on something new and tasty to eat, then they might be more open to learning about a new culture or different religion. Music connects people to a degree, but food seems like it transcends all objections.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Let Us Talk Lettuce: Roaming For RomaineMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      An intriguing idea, Ally. Food is such a universal way of bringing people together. Then I got thinking, if Americans were immigrants, what foods would we want to represent our culture? Hot dogs? Meatloaf? Pad Thai and pizza have now become staples of my diet. And now I’m hungry. :). Thanks for stopping.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  6. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I think people don’t clamor for information about cultural diversity because most people don’t clamor for information that way. I think it’s more about the actual exposure to diverse cultures through food, cultural celebrations, etc. People tend to accept others more easily when they actually know them. And though Europeans often speak several other European languages and are comfortable with customs in those countries, the influx of immigrants from places such as Syria and Africa has caused tensions. And then there’s Brexit. . .
    I like the quotation, Laurie shared.
    Merril Smith recently posted…Girl in the Rain–QuadrilleMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh yes, and then there is Brexit. People tend to hunker down with their own when they feel threatened, and in smaller and smaller groups as they feel more and more threatened, targeting “the other” as the cause of their fear. It’s a somewhat vicious circle in a way for however will they get to know those strangers … Somehow I see a parallel with the Middle East, Israel/Palestine dilemma. They are so tightly bound to what they know, they cannot even experiment with trying to see things from the other point of view. A dilemma for sure. And a dangerous one. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Merril.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  7. Cherie
    | Reply

    I love the diversity I get to experience here in Europe. Although the US is large, it is very small (minded) when it comes to many, many things. I am very happy to be away from that culture of small minded. (there are plenty of small minded people here too, it’s just not an accepted way to behave)

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I love that you make a distinction between the fact of small minded people (everywhere) and the acceptance of that behavior in a given culture. I made the same distinction about corruption when we were in Kazakhstan. I like to believe that even though we have it here, we try to route it out when it becomes known. I hope I’m right. I’m beginning to wonder. Thanks for stopping by, Cherie.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  8. Lise
    | Reply

    This is really an important topic now as our world basically just gets smaller. We travel so much, we receive travelers, we try different cuisines and all, but it seems like that’s where it stops for most people. They try something new, decide that maybe it’s not for them and that’s it. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, because there’s no way of knowing if they will embrace others who do like different things. I have to admit I don’t like change, I like living my life like I do but I know to respect that others do things different, even if I don’t necessarily want to be part of the diversity. I don’t really know how to articulate what I want to say, there’s always a language barrier in the way but I hope it makes a little bit of sense at least.
    Lise recently posted…Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower SniperMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You’ve articulated an important point here and done it quite well, Lise. I thank you. Embracing cultural diversity doesn’t mean we necessarily adopt new ways. Imagine if we all did that — we’d soon lose our own culture. It simply means, as you said, that we respect that others do things differently. It’s simple really. Thanks for stopping by. Now I’m off to your blog post.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  9. […] opportunity for a look at a holiday we’ve never heard of — like the one in May for World Day for Cultural Diversity — or a new look at a more familiar holiday — like the post on Valentine’s Day […]

  10. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I am fascinated by cultural differences. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. We live in a colourful world populated by such amazing diversity which adds to the fiber of society. Travelling is a good way to appreciate cultural differences. Bt that I mean travelling with an open mind and heart.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Traveling can indeed be a great way to explore and experience a different culture and I know of many who travel to get a sense of the local community and culture. But so often those of a more “tourist” ilk stay cocooned within their luxury hotels and don’t seem to want to venture out. I love how you bring into your books for children so much of the wider world. Thanks for stopping by, Darlene.
      Janet Givens recently posted…March UpdateMy Profile

  11. Laurie
    | Reply

    So glad I found your blog. Love this post! I will be back. This reminded me of a graphic I saw recently that gave percentages of people from both political parties (here in the US) who would NOT vote for a person, even if they were well-qualified, if they were __________. (Gay, black, Hispanic, female, an Evangelical Christian, etc.) I was shocked at the high percentages. Apparently, diversity is not universally celebrated!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Indeed it is not, Laurie. But as has been said, often it’s more a matter of getting to know someone first, then learning to appreciate their differences. However diversified our country is, we do still live within pockets of our own “kind.” I look forward to your continued participation and hope you’ll subscribe so as not to miss any. I post regularly on Wednesday mornings, though this Wednesday I’m reporting on the results of my recent Survey of subscribers. Still …
      Janet Givens recently posted…March UpdateMy Profile

  12. John Rieber
    | Reply

    I work in television, and have had the chance to travel around the world to meet people who speak different languages, eat different food, use different currencies, and practices different religions….but they are still all members of the same group: residents of Earth!

  13. Terri Lyon
    | Reply

    Love the bear photo. How true! There is research that supports diversity enhancing productivity and success in organizations. My hope is that people have the opportunity to learn about cultural differences at work, too.
    Terri Lyon recently posted…Kids take legal action to protect their futureMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Terri. I use Google Alerts to alert me to published pieces with a variety of terms around “cultural differences.” You might be surprised, and encouraged how many I get that are focused on the workplace. In this growing global economy, it appears businesses are catching on to the importance of understanding (and appreciating) distinct cultural differences. Thanks for adding your voice.
      Janet Givens recently posted…March UpdateMy Profile

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