The world is experiencing a greater movement of people groups than ever before. War, oppression, and poverty have been primary factors in this increased mixing of cultures. Globalization is bringing people together for reasons of business and education. Hollywood High School in California once had nearly 100 different languages represented among its students. Universities bring together students of many different cultural backgrounds. There is even more cross-cultural adoption than previously. We must learn to live in a multi-cultural world.
Differences in style and language can bring about misunderstanding. There are also competitive tensions. When an immigrant population takes jobs (even work that locals refuse to do), there is often resentment. If “native” people can’t get into a school because so many bright foreign students have taken many positions, negative feelings are understandable.
This topic is obviously related to issues of Culture, Globalization, Ethnicity, Racism, Third-Culture Kids, and Reconciliation. We must bring many perspectives and skills to this important consideration. Of its importance, Robert Kohls has this to say (in the Foreword of his Developing Intercultural Awareness, 1981:v):
Let me say it as simply and as forcefully as I can: There is no more noble calling, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, than to help the people of the world live together in peace and understanding, with a fully developed spirit of inquiry about other cultures and other ways…This can not be achieved as long as each group sits smugly locked inside its own ethnocentric cocoon. You can have a part in breaking cocoons and bringing about enlightened awareness!
At the end of his book Geert Hofstede (Cultures and Organizations, 1994:235) explains:
…the message of this book (is) that everybody looks at the world from behind the windows of a cultural home and everybody prefers to act as if people from other countries have something special about them (a national character) but home is normal. Unfortunately, there is no normal position in cultural matters. This is an uncomfortable message, as uncomfortable as Galileo’s claim in the 17th century that the Earth is not the center of the Universe.
A distinction should be made between cultural relativism and moral relativism. We may have to agree to disagree on the matter of relativism in truth and morals. But it is possible to accept the idea that morals are partially culturally conditioned yet still hold to the notion of universal moral truths…whether we see that in the essence of human nature, as a kind of natural law or flowing into human existence from the divine nature. The point here is that we cannot hold our cultural norms to be universal nor our style to be normative.
Whether we are reading this in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Montreal, Lagos, Nairobi, St. Petersburg, or Jerusalem, we must give ourselves to a world perspective and to better understanding of each particular culture. The youth culture is increasingly globalized, and our understanding of our global culture and of particular cultures and subcultures are vital for youth work and world efforts generally. You will want to spend time in the Resource List for this topic.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What is the most serious consequence of cultural ignorance or cultural pride…in your personal experience…that you can think of?
Give a good example of inter-cultural cooperation or reconciliation that you have seen?
What specific barriers or obstacles would you face if you were to give yourself to greater inter-cultural awareness on your campus, at your business, in your community or church?
More people have died in the past half century because of cultural grievances and misunderstandings than ever before.
If given the chance, young people are in a special position to affect cultural reconciliation.
This topic should be considered at least once a year in every school and youth group.