Culture. It’s something that we all have, and it’s something that has existed for as long as humanity has. However, for most of human history culture has been self isolated. By this, I mean that for most of human history cultures that regularly interacted with one another tended to be similar. Take various cultures in Edo Japan, for example. They were independent cultures, but many had similar values and those that didn’t ended up fusing with existing ones. Contrastingly, in the modern day, due to a much more globalized economy that requires cultures that never would have interacted closely, such as, say, Polish and Indian cultures, to interact, cultural norms must be dropped for the sake of global cooperation. As a result, many people fear a complete loss of their culture and way of life. This in turn, leads to extremism, a dangerous game that they believe will bring back a rise in traditional cultures. These extremisms include religious, such as the 9/11 attacks, nationalistic, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or ethnic, such as the Bosnian Genocide during the Yugoslav Wars, and many more. Thus the natural question of “what are we doing about it?” is born. Unfortunately, most nations are not helping to mitigate the rise of such feelings and many are even actively encouraging. But this isn’t the first time massively different cultures were forced to interact. While not as often, large pan-ethnic empires such as the Romans, Mauryan and Ottoman Empires would cause interactions between varied cultures, whether throughout parts of the Mediterranean, Perso-Turkic and Native Indian or any other culture. Thus, while the question of what we can do may seem intimidating due to the lack of action by major global powers, learning from these empires can provide insight on how we as individuals can establish a culture that respects all cultures and force a change.
First of all, let’s talk about recognizing the land we live on. A large part in globalization is the dispersal of people with a variety of different cultures into different parts of the world, which is a large player in why local extremism and xenophobia is on the rise. People see other people who hold different cultural values and backgrounds in places they considered “their home” and are altering the local culture. And in some cases, such as in America, these people aren’t native inhabitants either. Most of the territory in the modern day United States was originally land that was held by Native Americans and was later conquered and inhabited by colonists and people coming from the “Old World”. And many of the previous empires held this too. What they did, and what we can do too, was encouraging all the culture of people living in a region, and celebrating both the originally people who lived where they currently resided, in the case of the US Native Americans, as well as people who came later and inhabited the region, such as colonists and people who immigrated to America seeking a better life. A wonderful example of this is the Hagia Sophia, a mega church turned mosque turned museum. It was originally built by the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, in the modern day city of Istanbul. When Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire conquered the city and walked into church he was so awed he immediately ordered its conversion into a mosque to preserve it. In this way the already existing Greek, Egyptian, Lebanese, Judaic and uniquely Byzantine culture could survive while Ottoman and Arabic culture was added into the mix. In our own lives, we can do this by being knowledgeable about the people around us and engaging in their cultural lives as well as realizing many things we consume and utilize that originated elsewhere. In this way we can recognize the land we live on and the people around us and help curb that feeling of extremism and loss of culture.
Another point to work on would be individual freedoms and the right to practice, or not practice, whatever cultural norm you wish. Yes, being part of and interacting with other cultures is vital to allowing for the growth of any person, but it is also important to encourage individual expression and the ability to partake in what someone wishes to and doesn’t wish to. This particular point in relation to the previous, in my opinion, is the source of a lot of conflict in our world. Many people believe that you can only have one or the other. You can either join and celebrate with others or celebrate your own individuality and have the choice in what to partake in, but I don’t think that’s so. Rather someone can wish someone when they wish to celebrate something while also choosing not to partake in that. For example, many people in the world, especially in the west, are some form of Christian and thus holidays such as Easter and especially Christmas are lifted up. This can sometimes feel like other belief systems are of less value. However, I like to view this as a celebration for Christians which someone of another faith can choose how much they wish to interact with. We don’t have to celebrate something personally to wish someone well for their festival just as we don’t need to agree with someone to understand where they’re coming from.
Finally, there’s creating a sense of unity in a community. It’s important to create a society where everyone feels they can, in some way, have an identity of relation. If they feel completely independent and that they are an outsider to a group or community then they have a lesser likelihood to feel safe, and in turn, make safe decisions. Countless studies have shown that humans, by nature, seek relationships and communities and communities are formed through having something to share in common. Yet again, this may feel like a contradiction to the first point, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking so, but that’s not quite the case. Rather, here is where the idea of cultural blending comes into play. Cultural blending is the adaptation of two or more unique cultures and combining them in order to create a culture that celebrates aspects of all involved cultures while fostering bonds between people. Any successful pan-ethnic nation has, in some way, incorporated cultural blending into their history and it’s something that we, as individuals, also do on a regular basis. Someone can drink a coffee, that originated in modern-day Yemen, while reading a newspaper, that originated in Germany, and eating a bagel, that originated in Jewish communities in Poland, with cream cheese, something with New Yorkan origin. To the average person, these don’t seem that different but each comes from a unique culture with a unique identity, purpose and history and it’s something that we continue to do and can’t risk losing. Say you have a friend who celebrates holidays of a different culture and you join in every year and eat with them, or you start drinking a drink that your friend made that they used to drink every day at home that you’ve never tried. In these little ways we do things that would be considered cultural blending while also making people feel more comfortable and connected.
We live in a world where we are bombarded with a thousand different reports of seemingly more and more people resorting to violence to solve issues that stem from fear, and it can feel like we are helpless in the face of that. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to listen to that fear, to the nagging voice in our head that tells us there’s nothing we can do. Because there is. We can accept and celebrate the culture of the people around us. We can encourage people to celebrate with us while respecting them if they don’t. And we can create a larger community that includes people of all kinds. Ultimately, we have to humanize the person across from us. Every culture has something telling them to be kind. Whether it’s a variant of the “Golden Rule” or the oh-so-famous “Love Thy Neighbor” they all tell us a vital lesson that we need to stick to now more than ever. Be kind to the people around you, because they’re human, just like you, and they deserve that respect, in order to create a kinder culture and a better future.
The featured image of the Hagia Sophia was taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica Page for the Hagia Sophia