Dialogue on Cultural Diversity for Youth of Asia and Europe: Some Thoughts

There were rounds of applause from the participants of the recently concluded ‘Dialogue on Cultural Diversity for Youth of Asia and Europe’ in Malacca. It was really a laudable event organized by the World Youth Foundation (WYF) to nurture better understanding between the young people from various cultural and religious backgrounds. Personally, I feel that the program was a good initiative to open up wider opportunities for the youth of Asia and Europe to engage in inter-cultural dialogues. There are however several areas that need improvement for such a program to really reach the objective of fostering closer relationships between the various cultural communities without tampering the fundamental values of each culture.

Before one can understand on how to live peacefully together in a multi-cultural environment, it is imperative that one understands what the term ‘culture’ signifies. If the term ‘culture’ is wrongly defined, or understood from the wrong perspective, then discussions on multi-culturalism itself becomes off course and the objective of creating a harmonious multi-cultural society will not prevail.

Culture refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. These patterns and structures are not laws, but rather a part of the way of life. To better understand culture, it must be noted that culture consists of several elements that are passed on from generation to generation by learning alone. The elements – as written by Thomas F. Hoult in the Dictionary of Modern Sociology – are values, norms, institutions and artifacts. Whilst, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed down the elements of culture as being value systems, traditions and beliefs. These definitions of culture bring about the same idea; that culture is based on values.

As culture is based on values, it means that culture is inter-related and dependant on religion or faith. This is because it is religion or faith that teaches a person or a society about the values that they hold on to. It is the practices – or even malpractices – of faith that develops culture within a society. Therefore, it is wrong to say that inter-cultural talks has got little to do with inter-religious talks because as a matter of fact, inter-cultural talks has got everything to do with inter-religious talks. When people engage in dialogues of multi-culturalism without involving religion or faith, people will tend to tamper on the fundamentals of their culture in order to accommodate the differences between cultures as they no longer have the root values, which come from religion, as guidelines.

It is true that cultures are dynamic and it changes with time and place. However, the changes that should happen to cultures refer mainly to the norms and traditions aspect. The core values should not change, unless it is proven that those values are erroneous. When cultures are being tampered with without reference to their root values, it means that new values are being applied. When new values which do not refer to the roots of religion or faith are being used, it indicates a whole new culture. One problem that will arise is that there will be lots of variations of the new culture, as people will have different ideas on the values that they should hold on to. This, in turn, creates lots of confusion and that is why most of the young people today face the crisis of identity.

Therefore, in order to avoid the confusion and develop a harmonious multi-cultural society, dialogues are imperative. The ‘Dialogue on Cultural Diversity for Youth of Asia and Europe’ program was an example of a good attempt at engaging the young people in dialogues. However, a more concentrated and serious effort is needed if we are to really engage the various cultures in dialogues without tampering with the fundamental values of each culture, thus preserving them and making it possible for a harmonious multi-cultural society to exist. By serious effort I mean we should have more intellectual and academic discussions, for the matter that we are to discuss is all about fundamentals, philosophies, values; all of which are matters that can only be fully understood within an intellectual discourse.

Nonetheless, the ‘Dialogue on Cultural Diversity for Youth of Asia and Europe’ has sparked better consciousness and understanding within the youth of different cultures. What is left to do now is to get the young people from different backgrounds and cultures to engage with one another and be sincere in trying to understand and respect each other. It is an effort which calls for hard work for it is an uphill task to get the young people to set aside their adrenaline-pumped emotion and realize what a wonderful world it is that we are all made up of different cultures.

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