With the invention of modern technologies, especially with our access to the internet and the tremendous flow of information, our world has become a very small one- a global village indeed. From a traditional mode of living, we have jumped into the ocean of virtual media. Contacting a person who lives a thousand miles away from me is not a big deal these days whereas it was unthinkable just twenty years ago. Our everyday life is shaped by technologies, and by different media, so much so that we cannot even fathom the constant and lifelong impact they have on us.
Broadly speaking, the changes we are embracing are nothing but cultural changes and these significant cultural changes influence our social, political, religious, and economic lives. Change is the norm of human life but the question arises: are we ready to accept these changes and are we prepared to shun our traditional beliefs and norms?
We do not have simple answers to these questions; however, we realize that life is not stagnant and it goes on . Just as life is not stagnant, culture too is a dynamic process . Culture has not evolved biologically, or it has not fallen from the sky once upon a time. Culture is learned and earned through experience; it is shared and disseminated; it is the attitudes, beliefs, and lifestyles of a group of people or a society. Cultures grow and take intricate shape in a civilization within a specific period of time. Culture adapts and adopts many things as it marches forward; it has got its tide and ebb; but it never stops, rather takes and formulates different courses, shapes, and structures. So, it can plainly be said that culture is life and culture is who we are. But, defining culture in linear terms would be a limited approach and an unjust one since it carries a broad and diverse spectrum of meanings.
The problem arises when people tend to define culture and try to limit this definition through the process of homogenization and believing that there exists only one culture-their own culture . They cannot think of a Culture that starts with a capital C which is dynamic and symbolic.
Having said so, we must not imagine that African people or Asian people were primitive as they wanted to preserve their own culture. What could they do other than resisting the domination of colonization? In the past their cultures had been labeled as 'primitive' and 'uncivilized' as compared to the cultures of white colonizers. You cannot impose your culture on another group of people by force.
Here comes the concept of ethnocentrism,discussed in social science and anthropology, which is the idea that describes a situation where a group of people think their style of living is superior or more accurate than others. In simple words, it is considered as cultural ignorance. People who have not come in contact with other ethnicities of people adopt ethnocentric tendencies. For example, A Chinese may say that Bangladeshi people are uncultured as they use hands instead of chopsticks while eating. Similarly, so-called mainstream Bangladeshi people can think that their language is better than the language of Chakma people.
And, we do have a long history of colonialism where British people colonized the people of the subcontinent without showing respect to the age-old traditions of its people. Thus, ethnocentrism limits our life; it makes us orthodox, and sometimes, it instigates violence. It is a negative tendency that resides on pride and vanity, and consequently, it instigates people to be racist.
Indeed, we cannot root it out from our collective mindset, but we surely can think of an alternative route- a road to cultural relativism. Cultural relativism teaches us to embrace other cultures with due respect. One aspect of culture is that it tends to integrate. Any sort of broad categorisation and demarcation is against the spirit of a culture.
Through assimilation and association, one can enrich and develop one's own culture. So, to do that, we need to have an open mind and a diverse outlook. Coming in contact with races of people can make our lives enriched, broad, and open. It can help us understand life and make us tolerant and better human beings. It teaches us not to be judgmental. In this way, we can overcome our superiority and inferiority complex; more importantly, we can learn mutual respect and grow together.
The world is shrinking day by day. Everything is coming closer with the advent of the internet. This should be the age of multilateralism. People nowadays are migrating a lot. With the fast advancement of technology, people are also changing themselves as they quickly need to adapt to the new situation. Irony is that though the world is becoming more open; some countries are becoming more ethnocentric and thus nationalistic.
The Trumpian era has shown us how a leader can be mad about boundaries and imposition of all laws which is skeptical about migrants. Modi government is secretly trying to form a so-called Hindu state. France is banning Hijabs or headscarves in schools and colleges. In our country, we are not caring for the development of the languages of Hill tracts' indigenous people; instead, in many cases, we are imposing Bangla language on them.
Though we consider ourselves to be more progressive than our past generations, we are yet not ready to openly embrace people of different races and ethnicities. This dichotomy is a modern-day crisis and it alienates us further from one other.
In these circumstances, our schools and colleges must introduce more courses on cultures and cultural diversity. To imagine a monolithic world or even a society is not a healthy idea in this technology-driven new world. Yes, some sort of homogeneity is needed, but that must evolve and emerge from our better understanding of diverse people and their different cultures and lifestyles.
I know, to imagine a visa-free world would be a utopian idea. Nonetheless, at least, we can be brave enough to embrace and respect people from whatever cultures or ethnicities he or she is from. At this point of time, when it is claimed that civilisation and science have reached their pinnacle, we cannot be so prejudiced against each other. Yes, it is true we cannot speak in one language; we do have different skin colors; we divide people between rich and poor people; still, I believe, we can respect people for whatever way they are. To do so, our academia should include more studies on these issues; simultaneously, all sorts of media should introduce more programs on this issue. Thus we can avoid sectarianism, and can create a world of peace with having much diversity and color.
In 2001, UNESCO declared that "...cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature." Nature itself is diverse. And, we Homo Sapiens are a big part of this diverse nature. We have largely ruined the biodiversity of the world; similarly, we are doing it to ourselves.
Our cruelty must be stopped, and we must rise beyond all sorts of scanty and meagre vision of life. Yes, with the onset of globalization and the free market, industrially developed countries are enjoying more benefits and transgressing their boundaries to exert influence on other countries' core value systems; still, I believe, we as human beings can create an environment of cultural diversity and pluralism, and enjoy it together if only we can think of human relationships beyond racial prejudices; And for that,We must form and believe in relationships based on pluralism and harmony.
Md. Ariful Islam Laskar is an Assistant Professor and he teaches English Literature at Daffodil International University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Ariful Islam Laskar and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.