The Great British Cultural Challenge – celebrating our diversity

The Great British Bake Off final was the big news this week, attracting a record audience of over 14 million viewers.

The battle for the Bake Off crown provides people with a bit of welcome light relief from some of the more serious battles going on in the world today. It makes people feel good and it’s not just about the cakes!

A great part of the show’s appeal is the good-humoured interaction between the diverse group of contestants, who are treated kindly and with respect by the hosts (unless they have committed the crime of producing pastry with a ‘soggy bottom’!).

Recognizing, bringing out, and celebrating the best in people is something we need more of in the turbulent world today.

Our guest blogger, Neil Payne, Director at Commisceo Global Consultancy Ltd,  has some ideas for how, as interculturalists, we can set about that.

The Great British Cultural Challenge – celebrating our diversity

By Neil Payne, Director at Commisceo Global Consultancy Ltd

I come from a cultural mash-up of a background. British Father, Iranian Mother, raised in Kuwait and later let loose on the world in London. Sometimes that mash-up was confusing; more than often however, it offered clarity.

An example of such clarity was learning one of life’s most important lessons very early on – that people are people. No matter what religion, nationality, colour, we’re all reflections of one another; we’re all the same but different.

Understanding that difference helps me appreciate the common things that bind us, and to me, difference in this respect is a blessing. It opens up a world of new perspectives and experiences.

Negative perceptions around being different
Sadly, today it appears that difference is viewed as anything but a blessing. In fact, it’s been positioned as more of a curse, by some. Pre- and post-Brexit xenophobia in the UK, Trump’s focus on Mexicans and Muslims, France’s burkini bans, right-wing political gains across much of Europe…the list depressingly goes on.

What is clear is that ‘difference’ is portrayed as an issue; people are struggling with it and politicians are exploiting it. Right now, the other is possibly scarier, more unknown and more unwanted than ever before.

The power of interculturalists
As interculturalists I believe we have responsibility to reverse this. Now more than ever we need to look to our intentions whether in education, training or research.

We have to wake up to our collective responsibility and start ensuring our voices as people who understand difference are heard, loud and clear. More so, we need to disempower the current negative paradigms, channels and spaces in which diversity and difference are discussed.

First and foremost, we have to help people deal with the challenge that is cultural integration. Those of us who work within training know how easy it is for two parties within the business world to not get along due to some misinterpretations or misunderstandings.

Transplant this to a village, a neighbourhood, a town, even a nation, and it’s easy to appreciate how people from different communities can become frustrated with one another, distrustful or even angry. With few civic structures in place to help create the necessary shared understanding, it’s clear how and why we find ourselves with split communities.

What can intercultural education, training and research do to help wider society understand that difference is good? How do we make ‘the other’ less scary?

I strongly believe that we must take a stand and:

  • take responsibility
  • make our voices heard
  • contribute to the political debate, on policy and on cultural relations?
  • share positive success stories
  • role model integration

If it is not our place, then what is?

Do you have some ideas or suggestions? Do you know of or are you involved in any successful intercultural community or education projects or research. Please share your stories. Let’s celebrate and learn from others about how we can bring out the best in people across cultural divides, not just in Bake Offs!

 

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