Cultural Understanding and Global Citizenship

One of the unwritten rules of existence states that: ”The most arduous profession in the world is the profession of being a man.” From the very beginning, we, as human beings internalize, due to our rationality, discernment and superior level of cognition, that the systems in which we live, be them cultural, social, political, economic, religious or their intercrossing, are inevitably creating a framework of competitiveness favoured by our personal needs and interests. But in order for this complex mix-organism to be functional, a new variable should be introduced in the matrix:  ”understanding”. Thus, between any of the above-mentioned systemic components and ”understanding” can be established a strong correlation, resulting different types of understanding: cultural understanding, social understanding, political understanding etc. Furthermore, when all these prototypes are simultaneously overlapping, contributing to the formation of ”mix understanding”, you, as an individual, are able to enter into a new stage of personal development.

The contemporary world requires multitasking, much more accelerated rhythms of life, fast thinking, immediate reactions and adaptation to unpredictable factors; my core assumption being that you can comprise all of them in ”mix understanding”, that will further be useful in managing almost any kind of situation, from the diverse domains of life, when exposed to an international environment. This is a prerequisite that must be accomplished, if we want to properly perceive the sensivity embroiled by different cultures around the globe and to establish a productive inter-cultural communication.

All of these systems and range of ”understandings” are encountered at the local, regional, national and international levels, in different proportions and at different stages of evolution. But because we are living in a world, where the interdependence and interconnectedness are the most important aspects of the moment, the imperative of today is that we should start to think globally, transcending from the individual, to the collective and planetary level, in order to avoid the risks of remaining in a state of isolationism and better apprehend the metamorphoses of a perpetual changing continuum. These laws apply even though you have the quality of an individual, a small community or a major segment of the civil society. This holistic mentality and universal line of thinking that the international community is advancing to the citizens from all corners of the world requires a lot of effort, better translated through the seminal concepts of ”cultural understanding” and ”cultural awareness”.

For the accomplishment of this supreme goal many preconceptions, social barriers, prejudices, pseudo-environments (as Walter Lippmann in his consequential publication ”Public Opinion” would call them in the modern psychological meaning), distinctions, scanty attention and poverty of language should be overcame. It is a general tendency (specific to the human nature) to be reticent to rapid change and unexpected modifications, especially when they are imposed by ”outside” factors and forces that are not observable, but this is not a reason that should influence the promoters of a ”global society” to stop the endeavors for the creation of a new framework of thinking. This framework should contain the modern and postmodern concepts from the human and social sciences requiring dissemination through the vector of globalization, such as the following: cosmopolitan democracy, multilingualism, global awareness, human rights, international and Sustainable Development education, planetary human community, universal values, world mindedness, global governance and world citizenship.

When one first steps in a new milieu, external to his home country, the first aspects that have a significant impact upon him are the cultural ones, which is commonsensical in my perception, because with every action of our senses, we inspire and expire culture. In order to adapt to this new challenge, first of all, one should detain the most important type of human understanding, that is the ”cultural understanding” and in the second phase, to own a sufficient amount of toleration, that will serve as a mean in his future integration and cultural inclusion. Through the lens of culture, you can analyze almost every particularity of the world, because culture, under all its configurations and mutations, is instrumental in explaining the entire compartmentalization of life.

Audrey Osler, British international expert in Human Rights and Citizenship at the University of Leeds, recently stated in one of her seminal works: ”Education for living together in an interdependent world is not an optional extra, but an essential foundation.”, drawing the attention of the international community that a prolific cohabitation is the answer to the hardships of tomorrow. Diverse societies have a mutual understanding as long as there exists harmony in the communication across cultures and nations (facilitated by the commitment to the importance of learning other languages), a sense of fraternity, individual responsibility and self-awareness. These are prerequisites, that every single man (at the micro level) or nation (at the macro level) should have in their mindsets, otherwise the outcomes of the efforts to implement global understanding among nations, will be a dissipation of time and resources.

A prominent and prolific society is one that inherently has the capacity to integrate within its borders the components of multiculturalism and the influences coming from outside (the French, British, United States and German cultures being the most adequate examples), in this manner being created the context for new forms of coexistence. Language scarcity and the rejection of other cultures languages is a major problem that on the long term will definitely affect the domestic culture of a specific country. Today, more than ever, there is a need for language, as a key to both, intellectual and spiritual connection between the nations of the world. In a universe full of misunderstandings, language is the only viable instrument that can help us understand our common destiny. Along the time, history has proven that the most powerful and influential cultures, with continental or cross-continental orientation, are the ones that can include the global-minded polyglots and the individuals with multilingual abilities. The aim of reaching a professional and a personal goal in an international environment, thus becomes possible only with the help of a holistic understanding, supported by multilingualism.

The nations inclined to have a reluctant or skeptical attitude towards its equals are the most affected, culturally speaking, because they are not able to overcome some inherited preconceptions and stereotypes, that will inevitably cause their destructuration (the exemplifying case of totalitarian, extremist and fundamentalist nation-states which retaliated against each other’s cultures). Within the borders of a country, language functions as a bonding and identity agent, trying to avoid any gap between ethnicities, religions, political groups or any other type of opposing forces. Keeping the proportions, it is the same situation at the planetary scale, but because the efforts to develop a ”universal language” did not succeed so far (although appreciable efforts were made by the Polish ophthalmologist Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof who developed Esperanto, as an international auxiliary language, trying to resolve communication problems among people of different nationalities) we must keep in our minds that the only alternative for a beneficial cohabitation and solidarity among individuals is the mutual acceptance of linguistic patterns and cultural DNAs.

Cultural understanding is strongly interrelated with cosmopolitanism, and all the implications presupposed by its essential meanings. The 21th century seems to state that, in a new era of plenary development, the human condition cannot be understood locally or nationally, but only globally. A high degree of interpenetration is registered between the cultures of the world, the new structures and dynamics struggling to come side by side. The Kantian thesis of cosmopolitanism is now more actual than ever, because after approximately 200 years we have finally understood that we are not simply the inhabitants of a ”polis”, but more important the inhabitants of a ”cosmos”.

An exemplifying case of how reticent, skeptic and culturally unaware individuals and nation-states still are, is the current situation in Europe, where apart from an unjustified economic and social menace identified in the massive immigration waves of 2015 and 2016, some public figures and government representatives do not even admit the possibility of a peaceful social inclusion and of a beneficial cultural exchange. We are the witnesses of xenophobic and extremist nationalistic behaviors (Islamophobia, to be more specific), careless in what concerns the eventuality of offering humanitarian aid and some of the European Union members states even internalize the speculations made alongside the clash of civilizations. Thus, Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis about the enmity between cultures and civilizations is put again on the table of debate, being more actual than ever.

Developing a culturally competent attitude is an ongoing process, build on mutual respect and a desire for understanding. A peace-oriented world, guided by moral principles and shared system of beliefs, as the ones promoted by the United Nations’ institutions, is the answer to such unstable circumstances. Common values, humanitarian education, tolerant attitudes influenced by openness and flexibility are the essential terms brought into discussion when we face a complex situation, as the ones from the present times. The significant fact in the whole equation is that differences are neither good, nor bad; it is what we do with them that makes a real difference.

I believe that the very first man or woman who existed on Earth- Homo Neanderthalensis had the status of a genuine ”global citizen”, because in the early stages of Prehistory, they did not have any sense of homeland or consciousness of a defined territory (no borders, no restrictions to pass from one region to another or any prohibition related to the ”freedom of movement”, if we can mention the presence of such a concept in the prehistoric world). Or to reformulate, because it is misleading to talk about ideal types of global citizens and to apply a modern concept to a specific period of the past, I would state that they were more global citizens, than we are today; the difference being made by the fact that in contemporaneousness we are conscious about this fact, in comparison to them. I totally sustain this theory, considering that in the first periods of history, man and woman were the inhabitants of a borderless, unending and unitary world- ”The world is one family. The whole universe is our home and all residing in it belong to our family.” (as Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu guru established in America, stated in one of his famous speeches about unconditional devotion to unity).

As the humanity evolved, so happened with the boundaries of human settlements, be them tribes, medieval communities or recent nation-states. Thus, nowadays, we are in an endeavour to rediscover our inner roots and the advantages brought by them. The man of the third millennium is looking for a new universal approach for understanding the world, a world that is not confined by physical delimitations, but porous and adaptive to large scale integration for individuals who want to posses the passport of a ”global citizen”. The most rational explanation for this kind of human behavior in postmodernity is that human beings are increasingly ”borderphobic” (a new psychological type of phobia), no matter if the restrictions are material or ideological.

An incongruity of borders can be easily observed in the international spectrum. No predetermination is possible at the degree that it was in the past, because borders can be interpreted, redrawn and legitimated anew. Legal, economic, cultural and political borders are no longer rigid; they can redefine, reinvent and reorganize themselves, this general tendency calling for a world citizenry and a cosmopolitan state. In accordance with this bias, there can also be registered a significant stratum of educated transnationals, who have knowledge, both of Washington and Beijing, of Anglo-American and African traditions, of Islam and Christianity. These people are raising the standards of the cosmopolitan redefinition of the world.

The 21st century man is reflecting on a shared collective future, which is at opposite terms with a nation-based memory of the past, because after centuries of divergences between nations, the era of following one path has come; most scholars even predict the end of the Hegelian dialectical process in history (a prediction similar with the one made by Francis Fukuyama in his reputed book  ”The End of History and the Last Man”). Thus, an imagination of a shared common destiny is naturally structuring our conceptions about the near future; we know which is the direction we should follow because more and more people have achieved a superior level of global consciousness and world mindedness.

All the concepts and arguments above-mentioned are part of an extended, global endeavor, undertaken on one side, by the complex organism of the United Nations and scholars from the academic environment, and on the other hand, by volunteers and dedicated individuals who believe in the ideal of a more culturally united world. Global citizenship is the outcome chased by every single man and woman involved in this process. Our unique identity (that of a global citizen), that was almost unchallenged in the previous cultural currents- Rationalism and Humanism, has now become a perpetual struggle and reason of contradictions between the peoples of the world. The source of disagreement should not focus on the obvious fact that we are one family, the fundamental cell of the global society, but on the strategies how to productively and constructively implement a global awareness. This is the most importunate paradox of our days, that we have the arduous duty to solve, in order to achieve a new level of humankind advancement. Through the creation of common cultural ”mediums” (because civilizations have always interpenetrated one another, giving rise to hybrid cultural identities), knowledge focused on human rights, multilingualism and a cosmopolitan mentality, we can achieve in a few decades, what the human race did not succeed to accomplish in its entire existence. E pluribus unum, the global citizen.

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Author: Marin Constantin Alexandru

TPSC Article Writing Contest 2016 entry

Third Prize

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