Cultural Awareness (1)

The importance of being culturally aware

In a country like the United States, universally known as the “melting pot” of cultures, with a diverse racial distribution, there inevitably will be people with varying beliefs and outlooks on the world. In this globalized world, we have a responsibility as citizens to be informed about other cultures in order to be more understanding and receptive of one another.

Cultural sensitivity is defined as being aware that cultural differences exist without assigning them a value, which means without believing that one culture is superior to the other. In order to be culturally sensitive, it is important to be informed about other cultures and beliefs. Typically, a person who is well-informed about various cultures tends to be more open-minded and respectful to other groups because they are less likely to form unfounded opinions about the other culture. Many of us have been taught that ignorance begets prejudice (the very definition of the word is “an unfavorable opinion being formed beforehand or without knowledge,” according to dictionary.com). How can we expect to connect with other people if we do not understand their own perceptions of the world and their values?

Often, the very reason why people despise certain races is because of ignorance. For instance, when the Europeans first colonized America, they loathed the Native Americans because they viewed them as savages. However, they did not try to understand the Native American culture, which consisted of thousands of different customs and beliefs about religion, agriculture and hunting. When we are more knowledgeable about other cultures, we are less inclined to stereotype people.

Being culturally aware is also the key to effective communication. For example, in American culture, eye contact is generally viewed as being assertive and firm, while lack of eye contact is associated with evasiveness and dishonesty. In other cultures, such as Asian culture, direct eye contact is viewed as being rude and disrespectful. An American person conversing with a Chinese person might interpret his or her lack of eye contact as dishonesty while that person may merely be trying to show respect. In Hispanic culture, people greet each other with kisses on the cheek, a gesture that is associated with intimacy and love in our culture. If misinterpreted, a well-intentioned action or gesture can spark confusion and quarrels among different groups. Therefore, being aware can cause us to connect with other people more respectfully.

How can one improve their cultural awareness? The first step is to develop an open mind and to make a deliberate attempt at learning about another culture.  One should be constantly observing and questioning why people hold certain beliefs. In addition, one should communicate with people from a diverse range of cultures and ask them questions about their traditions, beliefs and thoughts on the world. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is to appreciate differences among people and to learn to accept them, which will foster a positive learning mindset. Cultural diversity could be an advantage because people with different backgrounds will approach problems in new and innovative ways, offering more solutions to problems.

In a world where there are millions of people with different cultures, it is important now more than ever to learn more about the people we live with. Not only will this improve the way we perceive other groups, but it will also promote collaboration among people with different talents. Our differences can be used to benefit us, but only if we are aware of them.

By Raymond Dunn, Arts editor

Editorial Cartoon by Joy Wang


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