In our world where there is a lot of travel, migration, union, and communication going on, there is no doubt that we are continuing to witness and experience cultural diversity. It is such an enriching experience, but there is no denying that such diversity can also be also challenging.
What is cultural diversity? What are its benefits and challenges? How are people reacting to cultural differences, and how should we embrace it?
Table of Contents
- What is cultural diversity
- Benefits of cultural diversity
- Challenges of cultural diversity
- Responses to cultural diversity
- Embracing cultural diversity
What is cultural diversity
Cultural diversity refers to the differences in the way of life by certain groups of people. These include the language spoken, the religion practiced, the cuisine prepared, and the traditions practiced by different cultural groups. Beyond these, cultural diversity also includes differences in patterns of behavior, interactions, and other social patterns unique to certain groups.
Have you noticed how parents from other countries raise their children differently than you do? How about the way certain groups of people behave in workplaces or run their companies? These are concrete examples of cultural diversity.
Benefits of cultural diversity
There is a lot we can experience and learn from cultural diversity. The people and the experiences can enrich us as individuals and our society as a whole. Here are some benefits of cultural diversity.
- Better productivity. Different cultures have different perspectives in various things and situations. These varying viewpoints can lead to increased creativity, innovation, and productivity. Imagine more probable solutions to problems, more enriching discussions to different issues, and coming up with better decisions.
- Increased understanding of others. The awareness and acceptance that cultural diversity exists can promote increased understanding of other people. This understanding can lead to lesser conflict and more unity in our groups and communities.
- New level of knowledge and experience. The more we encounter and embrace people of different cultures, the more we expand our knowledge and experience. We learn about the people themselves and the place they are originally from, including their tourist spots, historical sites, popular dishes, and even weather. We also learn about the reasons behind their beliefs, traditions, and principles. We learn how different people cope with different situations and so much more.
- Personal and societal growth. Cultural diversity can help us grow personally as we learn from other cultures. On a larger scale, societies can grow with the introduction of other cultures as new ideas are introduced and accepted. We learn to be more respectful, more polite, and more compassionate beings.
Challenges of cultural diversity
While cultural diversity has its benefits, dealing with differences also poses a lot of challenges including the following:
- Communication difficulties. Language differences can obstruct us from understanding both the literal and conceptual meaning of certain words and phrases. While problems about language barrier is usually temporary and can easily be remedied, the real challenge lies in understanding and interpreting the real meaning of certain concepts. Conflict and tension in the society or workplace can result when a misunderstanding occurs brought about by cultural differences.
- Creates differences in perceptions. Cultural diversity affects our perception and views of other people or situations. For instance, a mother who sleeps with her little children every night may find it strange for other parents to let their kids fall asleep on their own. Yelling to kids may also be normal in some cultures in order to instill respect, but may be perceived as a form of abuse to other people.
- Affects expectations of social norms. There are some norms that are common to all people wherever we go, but for many instances, social norms vary from culture to culture. When a person or a group of people from another cultural group migrates to your place, for instance, you may expect them to behave like you normally do. Unfortunately, they have their own way of doing things. When they don’t behave and act like you do, you would think they are wrong or are being unbecoming.
- Unexpected mistakes. Another challenge that comes with cultural diversity is the higher chance for unexpected errors to occur. When you are a traveler or a migrant, you would probably be making mistakes along the way, especially when it comes to certain practices and customs.
- Empowerment issues. Whether at school, in a workplace, or in a community, cultural diversity can bring about empowerment issues. Some people may feel less comfortable speaking up or sharing their ideas especially if they are relatively new to the environment or if in a workplace, they have a more junior role.
- Discrimination or lack of acceptance. The greatest challenge in dealing with cultural differences is discrimination or lack of acceptance. This is very common in schools, workplaces, and communities wherein the people who belong to the minority experience unfair treatment, bullying, harassment, racial remarks, verbal and emotional abuse, and even physical abuse. Affected people would feel isolated, excluded, and abused, which could lead to feelings of low self-esteem, detachment, and even anger or feeling of retaliation.
Responses to cultural diversity
Diversity means differences exist and these disparities are not easy to deal with. Different peoples have different ways of dealing with such diversities. According to a paper published in Harvard entitled “From Diversity to Pluralism,” the usual responses of Americans to cultural diversity include exclusion, assimilation, and pluralism.
- Exclusion – The exclusionists’ way of responding to diversity is to close their doors as they see a threat to the very core of American civilization.
- Assimilation – Assimilationists welcome new immigrants, but would expect them to leave differences behind and be like the Americans and conform to them.
- Pluralism – Pluralists welcome people from different cultures as they are, with all the differences, as long as they follow the civic demands of the country. They also encourage other people to contribute in their unique ways to the American civilization.
Whether in the US or not, these responses can be reflective of different people faced with cultural diversity.
Embracing cultural diversity
Embracing cultural differences is not as easy as ABC, but the following tips can help you develop cultural intelligence. These tips can help you deal with the challenges and take advantage of the benefits that go with cultural diversity.
- Understand how culture influences people in terms of behavior, beliefs, and values.
- Be aware of your own cultural conditioning.
- Be considerate, sensitive, and respectful of other cultural and other religious beliefs and practices.
- Respect differences in perspectives.
- Avoid stereotyping.
- Communicate to avoid misunderstanding.
- Increase your cultural knowledge by exploring other cultural groups.
Cultural diversity is everywhere. You don’t even have to travel places to witness such diversity. Just look around and you will notice so easily how other people are different in their behavior, practices, and beliefs. These differences can be challenging, but as long as we recognize, respect, and embrace such differences, we can take advantage of its benefits and avoid disharmony.
To quote Audre Lorde, an American poet and civil rights activist,
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”