Cross-cultural understanding milestones

Milestone marker in SpainFootsteps to cross-cultural understanding

"I'm normal; you're weird"

     As globalization moves ahead, what can move us forward on the path toward cross-cultural awareness and understanding? To monitor their progress toward a destination, travelers in the U.S. often check the numbers on metal markers placed every mile along U.S. highways. For thousands of years, European travelers have depended on numbered "milestones" to mark progress toward their destination.

     Cultural awareness is more than just realizing that another culture is different from ours. Good cultural awareness includes learning to value that other society and respecting its cultural boundaries. So, how do we get to that point?
     Here are some milestones usually encountered in the journey toward authentic cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding:

  1. Point of departure: "There's no one else here" or "Our way is the only right way."
    • Mind-set: Blind monoculturalism [ more info ] or Ethnocentrism [ more info ]
    • Different means deficient
  2. "Wait a minute, there may be another way."
    • Mind-set: Willingness to crack open the door
    • Awareness creates some sensitivity to cultural lenses
  3. "Oh, you mean there are reasons why people respond differently."
    • Mind-set: Tolerance
    • Discernment gives birth to understanding
  4. "It's OK to be different."
    • Mind-set: Favorable acceptance
    • Respect for cultural differences
  5. "Multi-cultural living can enhance our lives and even be fun."
    • Mind-set: Appreciation and admiration
    • Esteem

Destination: Embracing the joy of multiculturalism and cross-cultural understanding

     To invite people to make the journey to cross-cultural understanding is not asking them to embrace an uncritical relativism. Superficial cultural relativism trivializes differences and can even gloss over evil. For instance, an occasional misguided anthropologist has denounced attempts by others to get tribal groups to move away from cannibalism ("it is, after all their way")
     As we consider whether to embark on this journey that will bridge cultural differences, we must not be deterred simply because some who have fervently preached "diversity" did so because they had hidden -- and not so hidden -- "agendas" to advance.
     The road to cross-cultural understanding will not always be easy. There will be misunderstandings. There will be clashes of priorities and even deep differences of opinion. Those must not be allowed to lessen the delights awaiting us at the end of this path.

"One reason we learn about diversity is so we don't say something stupid and offend people" -- SNU freshman


So, what's wrong with being monocultural?

NextThere are some tragic perils to being monocultural. [ read more ]

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