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Cultural conflicts

Can conflicting cultures live in harmony?

By Kiran George | Contributor


Cultural perspectives color how we solve conflict. Poto provided by Wikimedia Commons

We can define both heritage and culture as that which is passed down throughthe generations, enshrined in tradition and upheld by communities. My home culture of India is, at its core, fundamentally different from Taylor’s common culture. I could rave and rant about the numerous times I have been discriminated against because of my heritage or describe the various points of friction that separate my life from the average student’s, but to what end? That would only itemize my concerns, perhaps making the situation worse in the process, which wouldn’t affect any real discussion and would render this article irrelevant. Instead, I shall focus on the true problem.

From the earliest times, as long as cultural sympathies have existed, man has exhibited a remarkable capacity to resolutely believe in the virtues of his own culture. Every culture has sought to cement the claim that theirs is the greatest ever. Every nationalistic movement, from Mazzini’s Italy to Hitler’s Germany, has touted the integrity and importance of its own heritage. Contemporary wars of ideology reflect this notion.

However, this can be problematic. If every individual sees their own heritage, at least subconsciously, as the greatest, then interaction with other cultures is automatically subject to preconceptions. Although I refuse to advocate the notion that people must not believe that their heritages are the greatest, it is important to observe that this notion predisposes us to conflict with individuals who believe the same about their heritages. This raises complicated questions, the most important of which is whether individuals from conflicting cultures can live together in harmony.

Depending on which narrative of man’s origin a person believes in, he may possess certain presuppositions that shade his entire outlook on life. Given that Taylor University is a Christian school, we shall adopt the Biblical narrative as our lens. The Old Testament cultivated the idea that the chosen people of Israel were superior in God’s eyes in every way, including culturally. The argument could be made that Israel’s interaction with outside cultures proved to be their folly in their relationship with God. In the New Testament, however, Jesus’ teachings about the Great Commission and the New Covenant lessen the gravity of that argument for Israel’s cultural superiority. Under Christ, every man became equal, without the existence of a chosen people. Contemporary Christianity has adherents from every corner of the globe who find unity in Christ and his message. In Christ, therefore, it must be possible for people of varying heritages to interact in harmony.

Less than a hundred years ago, the arduous journey to North America from my home country of India would have robbed me of a couple months of my life. The ease of travel today permits me to leave my house one day and arrive virtually anywhere in the world the next. The rate of this development is unprecedented, allowing cultures to intermingle like never before. Given our question of whether people of different heritages can live together harmoniously, this development is surely alarming. We have established it is possible in Christ, at least theoretically, for cultures to live harmoniously, but is that possible for the world at large? Or is it part of man’s nature to not be able to holistically live in harmonious congress? Is it an embodiment of his sin? If man’s inability to engage in fruitful intercultural relationships is because of his sinful condition, then it must be tackled with the same intensity of conviction we reserve for our sins. The need to coexist with others of different cultures, then, is of paramount importance.

For years the world has demanded the end of war and conflict, but it must understand that these are simply larger manifestations of the personal relationships we just charted. To solve these macro-issues, we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and engage with the world. This is hard work. We must be prepared to read more news, think critically, place ourselves in positions where we are in the cultural and ideological minorities and be prepared to patiently and unequivocally discuss issues of contention with members of other cultures. Are you willing?

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