Here’s a thought to consider: The first world fear of offending someone who has different beliefs, characteristics, or values to us is killing culture as we know it, and not just ours, but the culture we are trying to protect as well.
How many times have you pulled up articles on the internet going over massive cultural and global events lately to find that every other article seems to be a criticism on how some person, group of people, or country failed to recognize the differences of another person, group of people, or country, and in the process they have fundamentally offended them. Then you read the quote from the person, group of people, or country who offended the other and they something cliché like “England has tons of Muslim friends and we apologize for walking over door mats because of their apparent similarity to prayer rugs,” and then a couple months later a law has been passed that you cannot step on a door mat anymore?
Ok, probably not very often with that specific item, but you understand what I’m talking about. I touched on it earlier, in fact, in You Define Tolerance, a piece discussing the implications of the words global tolerance and how they impact culture. I’m talking about how our constant fear of causing offence is not only killing our own culture, but is damaging the culture we are also trying not to offend.
Culture is a delicate thing. It has the natural ability to grow and evolve with changing times, and that means that with globalization increasing its reach with every passing moment, the culture that once was isolated will inevitably be impacted by various other cultures from all corners of the world. We cannot stop this, and in truth, we shouldn’t want to. There are cultural elements that should, for the sake of humanitarian needs, be eradicated and forgotten. Things like genital mutilation that has been masked as a cultural right of passage for centuries, unchallenged and unaltered due to a lack of education, or the inequality of women that plagues almost every major religion and has only recently been challenged in just far too few places around the world.
But then there’s the other side of the coin, the cultural elements that help define who we are, things like art, music, how we greet each other, the festivals we celebrate, the languages we speak, the clothes we wear, the way we dance, the accents we use, and many, many more. All of these elements are pieces of a global pie that makes us more than just “people.” We are the people of something-someting-province. The people of somewhere city. The people of someplace hill or sometime meadow. We are culturally specific, with differences that define and shape us, make us unique, make us different, and all those things help make the world truly and completely beautiful.
As Third Culture Kids, we have spent the formative years of our lives picking up the details on all of these elements, from the good to the bad. We have adopted characteristics that strengthened our shared culture, and made a subconscious effort to become more like certain cultures while building a person that is completely unique of all the cultures we have absorbed. We have made more cultures that support and strengthen, never lessen or belittle, the cultures we have touched. We have embraced these things because they are beautiful, unique, and individual. They are qualities that are foreign, and in being foreign they are something we adore and aspire to be part of.
And yet, as the world begins to globalize and more people who have culturally isolated begin impacting the opinions of the world, something odd is beginning to happen that is breaking down the cultural value of our individuality. There are people arguing both ways, saying on one extreme that we need to rid the world of any form of differential recognition because differences imply that we are not all equal, that we are not all human. And then there’s the other end that implies that either we are different, and that these differences make one group morally, spiritually, and ethically superior to another.
It all comes down to our cultural tolerance level. Every single one of us starts in the center of our cultural tolerance, no matter where we stand in our opinions, and on either side of our cultural tolerance marker we have two varying extremes of cultural tolerance that are maximum level we will swing on any cultural adoption. The radical ends, as they are listed here, are massive changes to our cultural “You.” It looks like this:
TCKs have a highly attuned cultural tolerance map. We are extremely adept at identifying items within a particular culture that we want, pieces that can fall on either side of the chart all the way to the radical spectrum. We can swing both ways, absorbing cultural elements from all pieces of the chart regardless of how radical their nature becomes, governed almost solely by the idea that what we absorb is being absorbed because we believe it is benefiting us and our cultural whole. Naturally, as adapters, we are completely capable of absorbing anything that is radically different to us, however making radical changes to our culture is difficult and is therefor done less frequently as moderate and minor alterations. It looks like this:
A good number of people are capable of absorbing cultures also, especially those who have an intense interest in things like art, music, and general culture. However, these people tend to lean only one way on the cultural chart due to biases set in place by the “You” culture, or the culture of their developmental years. What this means is that they’ll happily change the entire way they dress (Radical B) for a big culturally different party, but they will never show up naked (Radical A) if the culture requests it because their internal cultural bias about what is right and what is wrong gets in the way. They are cultural leaners, and they pick a side and relate heavily with items closest to them in one radical direction with a tapering amount of enthusiasm until the extreme, but will only lightly play with ideas on the opposite side of the equation. They’re like this:
The people that are fighting for total inequality, and yes, even those fighting for total equality, are operating on very limited scopes. They see the world in only one possible outcome, their own, and are incapable of relating to either side that extends beyond their limited field of perception. They lean in one radical direction only, in this case with their core principal being highly extreme, such as making every single person follow the same laws in regards to what clothes they have to wear, they relate with people who have similar views. The further away from the “You” cultural opinions fall, the less likely they are to agree with or relate to them. If they are making the argument that all people should be forced to dress the same, they’ll have a dwindling level of agreement with people who also agree. Their drop off on either side happens quickly, and they are isolated from understanding the value of cultural difference regardless of whether they’re fighting for equality or inequality, because in reality, to achieve either, you have to completely remove culture entirely. They look like this:
And this is where the death of culture comes into play. The leaders of the world almost exclusively fall into either the Biased Cultural Tolerance graph or the Radical Cultural Tolerance graph. As for extremists, equality is winning, and if you were going to pick a side, that’s by and far the best winner because no one deserves to be treated like anything less than an equal human being with equal rights.
We are walking a very new path in human history right now, one that is seeing the world come together and unite in ways it never has before in the history of the planet. The big question is, when it is all said and done, do we want to be one giant cultural blob on the same types of people, or do we want to remain unique in our cultural heritage and show that the world is made up of more than one kind of person?
Personally, I would never want to see the cultures of this world that I have had the pleasure of experiencing be replaced with one, unilateral culture of earth. But then I’m just one voice in the sea of billions of voices. The question is, really, what do you want for the future of global culture?
Post by: James R. Mitchener