World Day for Cultural Diversity

By: Anton Petrov

On the 21st of May we celebrate the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development — for 17th time since its inception by United Nations in 2001. The foundation for this tradition was laid by UNESCO, which adopted Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity earlier that year.

Remarkably, the declaration proclaimed cultural diversity as the common heritage of humanity, inseparable from respect for human dignity. But in the increasingly polarised world, where globalisation and rapid technological progress coexist with protest voting in countries believing that current international agenda hurts their domestic interests — should we care about diversity of cultures in the first place? Or would it be better economically, politically, and socially if everyone was just focused on their own life?

To answer these questions, think about how you perceive people from different cultures. Which word (or more than one, depending on the context) would best describe what you feel: “concerned”, “tolerant”, “curious”, “embracing”? Now think about how someone may perceive your own culture. The difference between cultures reveals the notion that “my world is not the same as your world”, yet we often tend to judge people’s behaviour based on our system of beliefs, and are judged in return by other people based on theirs, resulting in a stalemate.

No wonder that three out of four planet’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension.

It takes courage to accept that no single culture is the right one, or, to be more precise, all of them are right, whether they are represented by millions or just a few. And all are unique and precious. If we agree to this perspective, cultural diversity will stop being a source of irreconcilable political conflict and will turn into a priceless opportunity to enrich each other’s lives, economically and personally, through exchange of knowledge and innovation. This may sound like a distant dream, but each meaningful conversation among people from various countries or communities brings it closer.

Invariably, your cultural origins will stay with you, as will your identity. Imagine, however, how amazing it would be if you could occasionally look at the world through someone else’s eyes — and be surprised with things you would see. For that, you don’t need to become a different person. Just listen to the song from a remote culture. Or learn the basics of a language, popular or rare. And — someone might want to learn yours.

Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity!

This post originally appeared on Tribalingual on May 21, 2017.

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