“People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what – and who – we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.”
As the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, highlighted in his Nobel Prize lecture from 2001, culture can be found all around the world and within every single one of us. That is, in my point of view, what makes culture and its particular aspects so interesting to explore and to understand. Culture and cultural diversity are some of the major factors that influence the world we live in, so it might be useful to get a glimpse on how culture works and how we, as individuals or as groups, can deal with the cultural differences. But in order to talk about culture, we need to know what we are referring to; therefore we have to decide what exactly culture is. In trying to do so, we encounter the first dilemma: the term doesn’t comply to one single definition, but to a multitude of definitions, each one stressing on different aspects of culture; so then, how can we be sure that we understand what culture is? For me, this is what makes culture special and worth discovering. Considering that no one managed to generate a single, widely accepted definition of culture, it is interesting to see how the concept is perceived and how the perceptions change from a person to another, from a group to another and from a nation to another. Going back to Kofi Annan’s speech, he suggests that ‘We can love what we are, without hating what – and who – we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings’. Following this idea, I am going to express my own view on culture and how it helped me develop myself and to some degree, understand the others.
Culture might be perceived in a multitude of ways, depending on different aspects. Influenced by internal or external factors each individual, each family, each group and each country have their own cultures. As Mahatma Gandhi once said ‘A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people’. Personally, I believe that in order to understand a nation’s culture you have to interact with people from that particular nation. Each culture is formed by how people think and behave, so the best way to have access to other cultures different than your own is to be around the people who create that culture. Gandhi also adds that ‘No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive’, or how I see it, no culture can survive without understanding and interacting with other cultures. That is why it is important to maintain close bonds with people of different cultures and deal with the cultural differences that come in between. Throughout my experience away from home I managed to learn that every cultural encounter and every cultural difference I had to deal with had a great impact on my personal development. Not only I was able to broaden my view and understanding of the world around me, but I have also learned how to accept differences, how to get over the stereotypical views that have usually influenced my first opinion and how people with another cultural background organise their lives. Last but not least, in order to end this article as I have started it, I will use another quote, this time from UNESCO, which sums up how culture should be understood and which also represents my own view on culture:
‘Culture…is…the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs’.
Until next time, open your eyes and your ears to what the world has to tell you!
Written by: Ioana-Alexandra Tache