Partially, of course, because mindful observation slakes our curiosity, developing our mind´s abilities, as we seek for understanding. Mindful observation followed by an initial understanding creates a certain tentative tolerance towards cultures we might otherwise have overlooked – or even condemned – beforehand, by opening our minds to the existence of realities that differ from our own. Our own culture can also benefit from this, by drawing inspiration from that which we have observed, by gaining insight from what is done elsewhere.
There are many ways to take an interest in other cultures. Do it and you will benefit greatly.
Mankind has developed different cultures according to the time and place where they lived, and each aspect of these cultures addressed all areas of human existence, affecting the structure of society, governance and ruling, the law, fundamental values, relationships between individuals, and between family members, as well as affecting education, the arts, medicine, and science.
Humans share a natural tendency to want to discover the world around them, which incurs certain advantages, such as allowing improvement in our own culture, and allowing an individual to develop certain skills in cross-cultural communication.
When comparing different cultures, we will at first be struck by the difference, and then, usually, be surprised at the similarities. These differences and similarities are generally explained by the context in which each culture developed. Seeking to understand what made a culture engage in its specific way is an excellent way to stretch and broaden one´s own horizons. It requires one to implement one´s capacity for observation, for analysis, memory, logic, and, finally, synthesis, allowing our minds to better understand the purpose of its study but also to improve our ability to understand other inter-human connections and phenomena as well.
Discovering similarities with one’s own culture is a very reassuring element indeed. But discovering the many difference can be, at least initially, upsetting, or even disturbing. By studying these differences and seeking to understand them, we will be more able to accept them. One will come to admit that some groups clearly have some use for these values or habits, and that these different ways have proven to be useful to them. Once we observe and admit these differences to ourselves, we open up the possibility of a reality – indeed realities – that widely differ from our own. This opening can then be applied to our daily life, hopefully by becoming more tolerant of opinions or practices different from our own, even if we do not share them. This increased tolerance allows us to live in better understanding with our fellow man. Developing tolerance among humankind is – it is my sincere belief – what can help develop peace and security for all of humanity.
Those who study different cultures through mindful observation can discover amazingly beneficial elements absent from one´s own culture, and one might conclude that the introduction of these elements could add or improve one´s own culture, by providing one with the idea of modifying certain things in the culture, drawing on what has been seen elsewhere, seeking to adapt the new elements so that they fit better into the existing culture. The introduction of new elements, beneficial in one context, could become harmful in another context. It is therefore necessary to know how to adapt and use things with discernment. And if it’s done right, incorporating some elements of one culture into another can lead to improvements.
There are many ways to learn about cultures. The most direct way, whenever possible, is to immerse oneself fully into this culture. It is then a matter of living among this group of people to discover and really understand the culture. But one can also learn by listening to the testimony of those originating from the culture in question, or by listening to those who have lived there or studied it. Reading books, watching documentaries, visiting exhibitions, and, of course, learning the language of the culture in question, for our cultural identity is interwoven with our language – all of these can assist in broadening our cultural horizons.
You have the possibility here at MIUC to mingle with a multitude of ethnicities, to rub shoulders with speakers of languages very different from your own, with world views similar and disparate. It has been a privilege and an honour to guide many of your through the exciting world of intercultural communication, bias, prejudices and the like here at MIUC. I hope to continue to be a part of your culture, and to hear how you are progressing as you make your own way down life´s twisty and turny road. Discover a whole new world, a whole new language! Do it as much as possible. And always, always…make the most of it.
Written by Naomi Sidaway Sollinger