A Diverse Dreamworld

Achieving cultural diversity is much deeper and more complex than mixing skin colors, languages, and customs. Real diversity is attained by blending every element of different societies, yet maintaining the uniqueness of each component. It consists of embedding an understanding and appreciation of unfamiliar customs and rites and rituals, while maintaining the core virtues of the host society’s character. That’s my take on cultural diversity, for what it’s worth. And I long for more of it.

I want the opportunity to experience the richness of multiple cultures, while holding on to my own. I do not understand attitudes that reject diversity, instead clinging to the idea that the “purity” of one’s own culture can be maintained only by excluding external influences.

Vacation travel offers only a glimpse into other cultures. It is too brief and too superficial to permit the development of real understanding. Understanding other cultures, I think, requires time, patience, and trust—trust of both the visitor and the visited. I have a vision, impossible to achieve, of creating global villages  in close proximity to one another. They would be cultural pockets that maintain their identity, yet would be open to sharing the “secrets” of that identity to visitors. These pockets would resemble the Chinatowns in big cities all over the U.S., but would invite people in to learn about the diverse cultures; integrated into our culture, but maintaining their uniqueness. Cultural diversity, in other words. I can envision Japanese and Chinese and Mexican enclaves. And, for that matter, Black enclaves in which African-American culture is maintained and cultivated, open so others can learn from and about that culture.

The seed for this fantasy was sown this morning while I read about Japan’s shokunin. According to the article on the  BBC website, “the term represents especially devoted craftspeople who may spend their entire lives perfecting their art, making a living out of it and ensuring it passes to the next generation.” The artisans included in a video companion to the article were especially intriguing; they are people who create models of the food items on menus. These people make models of each dish on a menu that can be displayed in a restaurant’s window so passers-by can see what the menu items looks like. The models look absolutely real. The article reports on other shokunin, as well. I would be fascinated to delve into that (and other) aspect of Japanese culture by spending time, on a regular, frequent basis in my imagined Japanese cultural pocket.  Of course, I might have a bit of a tough time understanding the language, but in my make-believe world, the Japanese people who I meet will be happy to struggle with English as I struggle with Japanese.

Of course, such pockets of diversity should, in my dream world, exist in other countries and inside cultural enclaves in our own culture. If only people around the world could be enticed to appreciate and be excited about the richness of cultures outside their own, perhaps the world would be a more peaceful and less stressful place. If only. But that fantasy is just that: a dream, an illusion, a reverie. Why can it not be reality? I think the answer is that people tend to view experiences outside their own culture as threats, something to fear. I know I’ve felt that on occasion; when I’ve encountered something I did not know, and did not understand, I became uneasy and frightened of…something. But, after getting through the initial apprehension, I became engaged by the novelty of a new experience. And so it should be for everyone. I wish.

Fantasy. It keeps my mind off reality. Lately, I’ve found I prefer fantasy to reality. I prefer the land of make-believe, over on the other side of dream-world. But the real world has so much to offer. In fact, it is what populates my dream world.

Hmm. Speaking of a dream world. I just pulled up the shades and, to my surprise, the ground outside is covered in snow, as are the trees. And I see snowflakes falling from the sky. The streets look clear, though. I’ll stop writing and will, instead, stare at the dreamworld outside my window.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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