by Anja Anđelković
Have you ever discovered you’ve been doing something wrong your whole life? For instance, you’d been picking the seeds out of a pomegranate one by one and swearing you’d never buy a pomegranate again, only to find yourself back in the grocery store getting another one because they’re just too tasty. And then one day you come across a YouTube video explaining how to peel a pomegranate and get the seeds out without the hassle and the usual red splatters everywhere. Who came up with such an ingenious idea? Well, most likely it was someone who grew up in a country where eating pomegranates is commonplace and who couldn’t imagine anyone peeling them any other way until they saw us making a mess. To put it simply, the person behind your “life-changing” video grew up in a different culture.
Now, imagine a world without such helpful videos, or far worse, a world where you would never come in contact with people from different cultures. Not only would you not know how to deseed a pomegranate properly (such a necessary skill!), but you’d miss out on all the wonders of diversity: you would know nothing about different peoples and their customs and much of the wealth of humanity’s artistic and literary endeavor would be denied you. And you and all your friends, confined to the same small cultural group, would live unaware of the enriching possibilities of the wider world. Luckily, times have changed. The global world of today is a hodgepodge of people from many diverse cultures moving from country to country, interacting on many levels, and living side by side in the same places.
Living in such a world is a rewarding experience we should all cherish, but unfortunately, there are some people who aren’t prepared to embrace cultural differences and who discriminate against anyone whose traditions are unfamiliar to them. It would be simple to just dismiss such people as an uninformed minority, but the truth is that we all need to live in harmony, respecting each other and our differences. And in order to do so, we need to know a lot more about each other and also ourselves. Without a doubt, the key to living in this modern multicultural society is learning – learning as much as we can about the world we live in and its people throughout our lives… And the path to making life in a diverse society more harmonious for everyone starts with the individual, most effectively a child, ready to absorb a wealth of knowledge that will shape a new generation.
Learning About Other Cultures
When we just say “learn about cultures” it might sound a bit boring and make you think about the time you spent reading about different types of ancient Greek columns or different countries around the world, but the truth is that learning about other peoples and their way of life can be extremely fun and engaging.
Clearly, the most immersive way to becoming familiar with a different culture is to learn to speak another language, which entails far more than simply becoming proficient in its vocabulary and grammar. Most importantly, it necessitates learning about the society where the language is spoken. So if you want your child to become more informed and understanding of other cultures, encourage them to take some language classes or maybe learn a foreign language together with them.
- Another fun and extremely rewarding way of embracing differences is through travel and experiencing an unfamiliar culture first hand. Of course, this isn’t so easy to achieve but if you get an opportunity, travel somewhere outside your own experience and immerse yourself in the culture with your child. If circumstances don’t allow this, traveling from your living room has never been as easy as it is now: watch shows about different people and parts of the world previously unknown to you, or watch movies originating in different countries. Ease into it by starting with movies in English but featuring characters from different backgrounds..,
- Pick a book with a character from a different culture. Read it with your child. Discuss how the characters are similar and different from the people who live in your community.
- Going to festivals and the celebrations of people who don’t observe the same holidays as you do with your child is another great way to get to know different cultures and ways of life and broaden your horizons. Try to find out about other groups who live in your community and make a point of learning about the artistic or scientific achievements their society has accomplished.
- And most importantly, encourage your child to interact with as many “different” people as they can and try to explain how the unfamiliar isn’t anything to be scared of and especially not something you should make fun of, but how differences are what makes our society interesting and how important it is to accept and respect everybody. Tell them how much easier your life would have been if only you’d known an Iranian who could have shown you how to deseed a pomegranate properly.
The Johannesburg Declaration (2002) says that “our rich diversity … is our collective strength”. When you read about all the benefits that embracing our diverse world can bring and when you think about everything our society has already achieved and the limitless potential it has, especially if we can overcome prejudice and discrimination, this powerful statement doesn’t only resonate with hope, it can also serve as a call to action to truly celebrate our diversity.