“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Did you know that humans have about 12,000-60,000 thoughts a day? Out of those, 98% of them are exactly the same thoughts that we had the day before.
Clearly, many of us spend our days stuck in the same mental loops. This monotony in our thought patterns will translate to monotony in our actions – our sense of being is tied to the way we think about and experience the world.
As creatures of habit, we find comfort in familiarity. However, after a certain point, it stifles our growth and confines us in a mental rut. Instinctually, we know that there’s a lot out there for us to experience and by shielding ourselves from the unknown, we miss out on these opportunities.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to shake off this malaise is to immerse ourselves in new cultures. Experiencing a new culture is like entering a whole new world of sights, sounds, smells, and textures. We get the opportunity to expose ourselves to new beliefs and perspectives on areas of shared interest.
But what exactly do I mean by culture? Culture is defined as, “the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts”. The people who belong to a certain cultural group have shared experiences that shape their views on the world. Even you grew up under specific cultural influences.
Cultural diversity, however, took a few millennia to develop and flourish. After homo sapiens first arrived, roughly 200,000 years ago, and began spreading across the world, each migratory group gradually developed their own ways of doing things. Over the years, societies and communities formed, which built a collective identity and a sense of belonging among its members.
We’ve come a long way since those times. Today, we live in a global melting pot, layered with nuance. There are approximately 190 countries and 7 billion people on the planet. Each and every nation, race, and cultural group contribute distinct flavors to our Earth family.
If you grew up in an environment where you weren’t encouraged to intermingle with people who were different from you, you might find the idea of cultural immersion to be intimidating. If you’re in this position, I don’t recommend going on a trip to the Amazon in Brazil for your first cultural experience. Instead, start with something more accessible, such as a visit to a local ethnic restaurant.
For the rest of us more daring folks, we can be flexible and adventurous in our approach. You’d be pleasantly surprised how much you can gain from other traditions if you’re open to it. Take a look around you, and you’ll see that many of the things that you use have foreign origins: chopsticks, yoga mats, German cars, Canadian maple syrup, Scandinavian furniture, etc.
We can take this foreign influence to the next level by making a conscious decision to engage with other cultures. The good news is that you don’t have to travel overseas to achieve this. In this previous blog post, I’ve provided an extensive list of ideas on how to immerse yourselves in cultures, from your own backyard.
Not only will a regular practice of cultural immersion benefit us on a personal level, but it will foster feelings of understanding and cooperation in the global consciousness. This awareness enables us to work together and build alliances to resolve critical world issues.
Here are four ways that learning about other cultures will enrich you as an individual:
1. You will broaden your horizons: Learning about other cultures expands your views on everything, from music to food, to politics and religion. You absorb new information and perspectives from people of different backgrounds and experiences. Your personality develops as you begin to appreciate and respect different ways of living. You can take away something valuable from every single culture that you encounter, and use it in your life. You’ll also come to appreciate your own culture and your place in the world.
2. You become more tolerant and open to differences: The Dalai Lama once said, “when ignorance is our master there is no possibility of real peace”. If we are to get along with each other, we have to eradicate any trace of xenophobia that may cause us to fear foreigners. When we make an effort to understand others, we’ll find it easier to accept their differences. If you’ve been told that people from certain cultures are ‘bad’, challenge your beliefs by befriending someone from that culture and listening to their stories. You’ll realize that your fears are unfounded and that you share more in common with them than you expected.
3. Improvement in your ability to interact with others: Having a basic understanding of a certain culture increases sensitivity towards the important subtleties in your interaction with people from that group. This can be an invaluable attribute in the world of business where cross-cultural communication is becoming increasingly more common. You have a higher chance of building rapport and reaching an agreement with people when you have a grasp on their values, concerns, and nonverbal cues. Whether at work, school, or within your community, befriending those who belong to other cultures boosts your social intelligence and people skills.
4. You feel more connected to your ‘humanness’: As you meet people from diverse cultural backgrounds, you’ll realize that, at the end of the day, we’re all one. Even though other people may see the world differently and have different lifestyles, they all have to go through the same human experience as you do. We all share the need for love, belonging, and joy. We all experience pain, fear, and frustration. When viewed through this lens you’ll see others as your fellow humans with whom you share your home planet, rather than strangers from another land.
As you discover new frontiers, it will become increasingly apparent why it’s essential for us to trust one another and to cooperate. Cultural understanding ultimately builds the bridges that we need to develop peaceful coexistence and create a world where we can all thrive, grow, and prosper.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: Do you enjoy learning about other cultures? How have those experiences enriched you as a person?