Today, May 21st is The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly due to UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in November 2001.
The importance of cultural diversity cannot be denied. Some people tend to take culture for granted, not realising how much it shapes their behaviours and their identities. Our culture is our very way of life, and is comprised of the values and beliefs that we pass from one generation to the next. Saint Lucian society is becoming increasingly multicultural, which makes the concept of multiculturalism ever more important. ‘Multiculturalism’ basically refers to support for the presence of the various cultural and ethnic groups that are contained within a society.
This support can be harnessed in a number of ways. One way is to recognise the various cultures with which we share our environment, and respect the differences we find. Some of us tend to feel that public spaces are personal unto us and should not be shared with people that are different from us. This is a selfish notion. We ought to acknowledge that people come from various cultural backgrounds, and that their different cultural expressions and contributions are all valid.
Different cultures have benefitted different people in a number of ways. Saint Lucians who have travelled abroad have communicated to friends and family back home how much they have enjoyed and gained from other cultures. Foreigners who have visited Saint Lucia continue to speak about our culture. The point is, every culture has something of value to offer, and therefore should be appreciated. The best way of showing this appreciation is to encourage contributions from the diverse groups within our society. We may be pleasantly surprised to see how elements from another culture may compliment our own.
A lot of the times we only tolerate each others’ cultural differences rather than celebrate them. We have to celebrate these differences if we are to bring about unity through diversity. One of the fruits of cultural diversity is the empowerment we get from having different perspectives and ideas available to us. This empowerment can assist us in reaching our highest potential, -but we must be critical of our own biases in order to do so.
Saint Lucian culture is diverse, and rather than allow the difference of cultures to create boundaries or divisions, we should find ways to knit them together as part of a single community. A festival of Cultural Diversity is not a bad idea for this purpose. We should all desist from imposing our values on other cultures, for that only creates tensions which may lead to conflict. We should teach our children constructively about other cultures instead of encouraging them to criticise others cultures as we often do.
We will always encounter various ethnic, racial and cultural groups within our schools, our workplaces and throughout the country. We must encourage a positive mindset toward these encounters. The cultural insensitivity, bias, or prejudice that we encourage or promote here in Saint Lucia, could very well be of the same kind that our children or grandchildren may suffer abroad. But if it has to end, then we have to start somewhere. Cultural diversity is for our development. No country in the world which is culturally diverse could ever claim that they would have been better off without diversity.