We live in an age of diversity, of openness to others’ culture, of multiculturalism
We pride ourselves on being less dogmatic and blinkered than our forefathers. And so we are, in many ways. As the globe has shrunk, many alternative worldviews have emerged. We appreciate others’ cultures – we have a healthy cross-cultural attitude. Our focus is broader, more flexible.
But wait. Crossing cultures isn’t just an ethnic or geographical matter
It also applies across time, across the generations. If we could go back in time, say seventy or eighty years, to our grandparents’ age, we would find in many ways a strange and foreign culture. One where men and women related to each other very differently from now; where attitudes to race and class were very different; an age of deference, we often say. At this point, most of us would conclude that ‘our way’ is the best way, and that we have progressed a long way, not just technologically, but socially too.
But is that all we can say?
The default conclusion of any culture is that ‘our way is the best way’. It’s called a ‘monocultural perspective’, which consistently compares one’s own culture with others and decides that ‘our way is best’. It’s what we all do, and we usually require help to see that ‘another’s way’ can be just as good, if not better. Try living in a very different country for a year or two and see what happens!
So as we look back at Britain or Western Europe two or three generations ago…
We view it with mono-culturally tinted glasses. Our attitude is inevitably skewed in favour of our more ‘advanced’ society, both technologically and socially. But consider the social dimension more carefully. Today we have several epidemics, not of infectious diseases, but of stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Our communities are less caring, our families more fragmented. There is less trust and more alienation – anomie, loss of meaning. The list goes on.
So in what senses are we more ‘developed’ than our forebears?
Do we really think that we have nothing to learn from the accumulated wisdom of the many generations that have preceded us – as if all that hard-won experience counts for nothing? If someone from that generation were to visit us now, would they conclude that we are more ‘advanced’ than they were? Or might they be able to impart some wisdom for life that we lack today? How might someone seventy years from the future regard our values and attitudes?
Our view of the human person, relationships and the search for meaning are not sacrosanct
In our quest for novelty and progress have we overthrown important traditions of the past?
Monocultural attitudes are blinkered
They see themselves as superior, with little or nothing to learn from other cultures. Some might say that that is an arrogant and short sighted perspective, which needs to learn something more about humility – not a very popular word today.