One planet, one community By= By Florence Joseph (Fatemeh Hajian)

July 26, 2007 - 0:0

""World citizenship"" has become an increasingly important issue. The term brings with it a sense of oneness of humanity.

We are all Homo sapiens and are basically identical, have similar 'human natures', possess the same brains, and have every right to have a successful and happy life, yet we differ in personalities. Culture and differences are but disparities on a theme, a rich and varied expression of our shared humanity -- we are all the same at heart or as the thirteenth-century Persian writer and poet (Saa’di) says: ""All men are members of the same body, created from one essence. If fate brings suffering to one member, the others cannot stay at rest. You, who remain indifferent to the burden of pain of others, do not deserve to be called human."" Understanding cultures and exploring values is thus vital since it enriches a person's life as he strives to understand others and appreciate and accept the differences. English poet and critic Matthew Arnold says: ""Culture looks beyond machinery, culture detests hatred; culture has one great passion -- the passion for sweetness and light. It has even yet a greater one, the passion for making them all prevail. It is not satisfied till we all come to a perfect man; it knows that the sweetness and light of the few must be imperfect until the raw and unkindly masses of humanity are touched with sweetness and light."" We human beings share numerous cultural values. If we observe the common values -- things that we all agree on, such as honesty, responsibility, faith trust, truth, justice, sacrifice, tolerance, respect, sympathy, patience, empathy, ecological sensitivity, charity, kindness, respect and care for mankind, we will be creating a world to which all people want to belong. Shared values and beliefs are the 'glue' which binds a community. Conflicts of values sow discord and dissension. Just as we share common ideals, every human being also dreams of living in a world that is centered on love, understanding and peace, not hatred and conflict, on people, not profits; on spiritual not financial values; on international cooperation and not domination. We must remember, we are not just clients sustaining wealthy corporations but are individuals, family members, citizens and spiritual human beings. But cultural issues are not the only concern; culture goes hand-in-hand with civilization. In fact culture is indisputably a sub-branch of civilization. This is why many critics world over have rejected the theory of ""Clash of Civilizations"", which describes that the new explanation for global dispute will not be understood in terms of economics or political ideology, but will be a conflict among different world civilizations. This concept has not been universally accepted for the future of international politics. Undoubtedly, most civilizations are based on religion and culture. In fact, they are more common in religions than differences. This is why a ""Dialog among Civilizations"", is crucial, the principal objective of which is to bridge the gap in knowledge about other civilizations, cultures and societies in a multilateral context. Learning about different cultures will facilitate this dialog. By relying on cultural commonalities, people from different cultures can even open doors for better understanding and peaceful coexistence in the world. Our world is wrecked with war, hatred, vengeance, injustice and other atrocities. Only by uniting can we eliminate the indescribable menaces that threaten our common planet and its inhabitants who are all children of Adam and Eve. But just as there are shared cultural values, there are also differences which can create confusion. Innumerable instances exist what we human beings take for granted, stuff that was learned since infancy that it all seems so ‘natural’. Sure, we are born into a culture but by no means are we born with a culture. Culture is not something innate; rather it is a learned pattern of behavior. Examples of 'natural' things include the manner of eating, sleeping, sitting, keeping an appropriate distance from someone when talking to them, and other gestures. While eating is natural –- eating with a fork, spoon and knife or with chopsticks is cultural. Likewise sleeping and sitting are natural, but sleeping on a bed and sitting on a couch is cultural. That which is cultural is taken for granted within a given culture, so much so that it appears natural; and this is why when we encounter someone from another culture, we often instantly perceive them as ‘undignified’, ‘over courteous’, sometimes 'strange' and perhaps even 'stupid.' But when the shoe is on the other foot and the person is the odd one out, when experiencing a new culture, then he undergoes what is called a 'culture shock', the terrifying realization and trauma that one endures when moving into a culture different from his home culture. Communication problems that involves frustrations with the culture, like lack of understanding verbal and non-verbal communication of the new culture, its local traditions, are just examples to name a few. The differences that people may experience include insufficient food, unacceptable sanitation standards, diverse bathroom facilities and fear of personal safety. So while interacting with someone from a dissimilar culture -– their words, assumptions, gestures, values, and other cultural aspects become insensible when transferred to your frame of reference. An example of cultural variation is in the way different cultures view greeting people with 'handshakes'. Handshaking differences can cause some embarrassing and humorous cultural encounters. The British, Australian, New Zealander, German and American social groups usually shake hands on meeting, and again on departure. Most European cultures shake hands with each other several times a day. Indian, Asian and Arabic cultures may continue to hold hands even when the handshake is over. Germans and French are known to give one or two firm shakes followed by a short hold, whereas British give three to five shakes compared with an American's five to seven pumps. This is hilarious to observe at international conferences where a range of different handshakes occur between surprised delegates. Another example of cultural difference is in the way different cultures handle 'time'. In many traditions, mostly Eastern and African, 'trust and friendship'' is considered more important than time. In this, a person does not hurry on to business matters without first building a rapport with those he will be dealing with, even if it means delaying the start of a meeting. This attitude builds mutual confidence. Westerners however tend to view time as something fixed in nature. They handle time as an orientation for future actions counting every second as precious, following the adage ""be on time end on time"". They disapprove delaying a meeting’s length to avoid inconveniences either to themselves or anybody else's plans. Their business dealings generally do not involve friendships. Another variation is the leave-taking style. Easterners tend to be more formal about ending a conversation and consider it rude to quickly withdraw from a chat. Westerners tend to quit conversations faster than Easterners. If they get up and leave during a conversation, they are not necessarily offended or being rude. Neither is right or wrong necessarily, but it certainly is varied, and when people with different assumptions meet there is great room for misunderstanding! This is why learning about other cultures is vital. Some people study about cultures because they find the different ways that people think, speak, act, evaluate, and communicate fascinating. But if a person is more practical and is interested in the outcome of learning about another culture for a certain purpose, say for example, if his job concerns anything relating to international relations and political affairs, then understanding other cultures becomes crucial. Normally, we identify the existence of other societies and nations with their various values and ideologies, when it nears some sort of crisis or perhaps even war. A better option would then be to seek to understand other nations and cultures before a crisis occurs. Yet again, presuming a person is either a spiritual believer or just a conscientious world citizen, he may at some point in his life decide to get involved in some kind of humanitarian aid or a charity mission. If the task involves crossing cultural boundaries, as it is most likely, then he will discover that understanding other cultures and societies will hinder him from contributing what is known as a ‘benevolence that kills’. Many generous people world over have visited other cultures with hopes of lending a hand. However, often, because of inadequate knowledge of local traditions and prevalent conditions, what begins as a meaningful charity work turns out not only frustrating, but harmful in the long run. So getting acquainted with new cultures is a key to avoiding such blunders. If none of these factors sound motivating, then by just looking at those around us -- our immediate neighbors, including colleagues will teach us a lesson in good neighborliness in the global village. When a person enters an internet chat room or sends an e-mail, he is interacting with one of the over 6 billion, 596 million, 464 hundred thousand and 732 people in this world that maybe from any other religion or nationality. So instead of stereotyping, why should we not learn about these cultures? Learning to be 'culturally competent' is important. The word 'culture' is used because it implies integrated patterns of human behavior of thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, and institutions of racial, religious, or social groups. The word 'competence' means being able to function in a particular way such as within the context of culturally integrated patterns of human behavior defined by a group. Being competent in cross–cultural functioning therefore means the ability of learning new behavioral patterns and effectively applying them in suitable situations. Such people, in part, appreciate and even cherish the interesting differences that exist between people who come from remote corners of the world. Cultural differences and clashes are tragic. Understanding others, even in one's own culture or ethnic group, is an eternal confrontation. But all the more challenging is to understand those people who come from different cultures, have experienced different family structures, learned different values, practiced different religions, and perhaps have varied definitions of morality and justice. One key tool to mitigate cultural misunderstanding is to learn to communicate. Every individual acquires a culture in the stages of growing up, and the primary means by which we are acculturated is through communication. Contact with others helps us to learn new languages, develop worldviews, establish values and subscribe to our different beliefs, passing on to them our own culture simultaneously. In fact, communication is the sole process by which people acquire and transmit their individual cultures. It also eases an individual's fears and changes his value system and life. Culture and communication are strongly linked. When a person shows interest and seeks information from another to learn about his culture, a kind of trust and understanding develops between them resulting in a bond. Last but not the least; communication facilitates one to begin to understand symbols and their interpretations as well as etiquette rules of other cultures. Mingling with people and discoursing about cultures of both sides, comparing and contrasting and finally accepting each others views respectfully, is not only amusing, but builds confidence making it easier to get along with almost everyone. All said and done, what is crucial is to realize the need to put aside all prejudice and rely on common cultural values of mankind and focus on more serious issues and eliminate AIDS, terrorism, human trafficking, drug abuse, poverty and hunger which is killing millions of people across the world every minute of the day. The materialization of a universal civil society will generate novel prospects to build a more democratic and humane world. We must not forget that our ecological, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interlinked, and as one family unit we can forge comprehensive solutions and usher in an era of peace