What is Cultural Diversity?
By: Shahzad Bashir
Culture constitutes a set of values, beliefs, and traditions that have been embedded into a social construct. And then practiced for a long period of time by a group of people, so that it becomes part of their lifestyle. Every region has its own culture. Hence, making every community unique and distinctive in its ideologies, moral-ethical dilemmas, and actions.
Elucidating Cultural Diversity
In a society, there is always the existence of a variety of cultural or ethnics groups. It can be the variance in languages, religions, or customs. This is defined as Cultural Diversity.
A person living with a particular set of traditions has his own experiences, which eventually creates the lens through which he views the world. However, the element of cultural diversity is experienced at a different time and place, when a person witnesses with his own eyes. For instance, if we take the example of Pakistan, the cultural diversity vis-a-vis religion consists of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians. Whereas, cultural diversity vis-a-vis language constitutes Urdu, Balochi, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Pashto.
The Challenges Of Cultural Diversity
There is a high probability that cultural diversity creates superior and inferior complexities among communities. The fact that there is a huge variance in how people think and perceive, tends to create certain conflicts in a social setting. Many social settings or working spaces are not open enough to accept the diversification of ideas. Such Social institutions or organizations are not inclusive in nature, hence tend to segment the difference of opinions rather than respecting them gracefully.
For instance, workers from the South East Asian region like Pakistan, India, or Japan, may shy away from speaking their minds in a social setting. Majorly due to the fact that they were raised like this. And taught not to confront elders, or their superiors even if they were wrong. This cultural aspect is relatively different from a person brought up in Europe or the United States, where people do not shy away from commenting or criticizing the prevalent social constructs. These post-modernists encourage a decentralized structure in workplaces as well as in their society.
Therefore, if you take both of these groups, and put them together in a social setting, chances of confrontation would be prevalent.
Conflicts prevalent in today's political-economic climate have enveloped the entire social community. It has given rise to a lot of prejudices and preconceived stereotypical approaches against certain communities. Hence, people are hesitant to accept cultural diversity.
If you start stereotyping people based on their culture, religion, race, education, and ethnicity, it will push that community towards isolation. So rather than integrating, you will eventually witness segregation within a community. This is applicable in every social setting; such as schools, colleges, universities, companies, or any other place where different people get together and form a social setup. People tend to be around other people with similar characteristics. There has to be something that unites them. It could be language, religion, ethnicity, or race.
On the contrary, it's not always necessary that stereotypes have to be negative. There are certain positive stereotypes as well. For instance, people proclaim that Asians are very intelligent and hardworking. Moreover, there is a general preconceived notion about African Americans, that they are very athletic and physically strong. And that Jews are very sharp and cunning.
Though these stereotypes are not directly offensive, they do possess a hidden unconscious bias that may hinder the integration and acceptance of people for different roles. If all African Americans are physically strong, people may assume that they lack academic prowess. Furthermore, if people consider Asians to be hardworking and intelligent, they may be associated with artless people and individuals who lack creativity and resist having fun and enjoyment.
One of the biggest challenges that Cultural diversity can face is misinterpretations. This misinterpretation is a result of miscommunication between different languages. Hence, when translations are done, there is a high probability that the meaning might get lost in translations. The other person gets the wrong message, or in actuality, perceives it in the wrong way.
Many people may object to this notion, claiming that misinterpretations also take place when everybody speaks the same language. It's not necessary that it has to be a different one. That is definitely a justified statement. But in social setups, even if everyone speaks the same language, the parties can eradicate conflicts immediately, even if the message is perceived wrong. On the contrary, if the languages are entirely different, it may lead to severe compilations. Because if you are trying to communicate cross-culturally, It's more than just words.
There is a huge non-verbal communication aspect that usually gets unnoticed. Even if you say the nicest thing in your language, there is a slight chance that it may be something very delicate in the third party’s social structure. For instance, things like making eye contact, or unnecessary hand gestures, or standing too close, or terms you use to address a person before stating a message. These things are considered very important in some cultures. For example, in Chinese culture, it's considered disrespectful for young people to talk before an elder person does. Whereas, it may be appreciated and encouraged in an American workplace.
Hence, it's incumbent upon communities to study the cultural intricacies of foreign cultures and then give it its due respect.
Benefits of Cultural Diversity; The other side of the coin
One of the biggest benefits of cultural diversity is that it leads to creative outputs and drives innovation. The world is viewed in different ways by people belonging to various cultures. Though it may create a difference of opinion, it also helps to empathize. People can appreciate other viewpoints as it gives them an appended perspective. A new perspective has the potential to inspire people, whether it is personal or professional.
Cultural diversity has the potential to drive innovation. Innovations take place when there is resistance, or mainly friction of thought. When diverse opinions come together, it gives a holistic perspective towards approaching a problem. Ultimately, out-of-the-box thinking leads to new solutions. And news solutions help the community collectively, regardless of what race, religion, or caste is. Everyone benefits from it. And this eventually brings together people rather than separating them. So you can actually proclaim that cultural diversity brings people together rather than segmenting them into separate groups.
Moreover, according to a recent study conducted by Forbes, organizations that advocate cultural diversity end up becoming more successful as compared to the ones that do not. Hence, it's definitely a fruitful endeavor.
Professional & Personal Growth
For the goodwill and growth of a community as a whole and the people as individuals, cultural diversity does more good than harm. Because if the community is rich in its cultural variation, it will attract more talent, business, and economic opportunities. Everyone would appreciate a community where a diverse range of people are accepted and appreciated.
Many people feel imprisoned in their own society and culture. But it's not imperative that it has to be for negative reasons. They might not get the opportunity there, that they might get in a place where cultural diversity is welcomed. Moreover, growth opportunities as a professional are mostly done in a place where people from all around the world are working or studying.
Personal growth takes place when people are willing to accept people in their original form, rather than asking them to change for you. If you have a broad perspective in such a sense, it will enable you to mature as an individual. And will also make you more tolerant of other people's opinions. Meanwhile, it will encourage you to find what is similar between you and the other person rather than looking for things that differentiate you from him.
Most of the time in Culturally diverse social setups, people might not get the opportunity to make their voices heard. It's good to take initiative and make your voice heard. But sometimes it is incumbent upon societies or organizations to create an inclusive culture or work environment where people feel comfortable and encouraged to contribute their opinions.
People proclaim that segregation between communities is the best methodology to create a functional society. However, research done by social scientists and institutions states that communities or organizations with the most culturally diverse people are the most functional and productive societies. You cannot make people happy by separating and segregating them. That tends to create conflict and misery and promulgate the rhetoric that, ‘grass is always greener on the other side.
Living together promotes acceptance of diverse opinions and diminishes intolerant behaviors. Collaborations lead to new innovations and drive creativity. It also helps to resolve more problems because if multiple people from diverse groups are coming together, they will bring their own perceptions, ideologies, work ethic, style, and commitment to treating a problem. Hence, creating more opportunities to solve a problem effectively and efficiently.
Cultural diverse groups are more productive, confident, and tolerant individuals. And if this mentality tends to spread, it will eventually create a better world.