United in Diversity

By Omoye Jennifer Lawal, BA

With the Olympics set to commence in just a few days, one can’t help but think of this as a festive occasion that celebrates excellence in athletics, and one that showcases various cultures with immense pride. Our traditions and cultural identity often bring us together, yet it happens they also set us apart. Culture can mean many things to different people: it can be your language, your food, your clothing, your religion, your ethnicity, etc. Thus, understanding culture in relation to one’s family background, heritage, language, beliefs, and perspectives in a pluralistic society can give us a sense of personal identity; an identify that promotes individuality and the need to be different. Nonetheless, it is also important to understand and appreciate the culture of those around us, as this is an important step in bridging differences and resolving conflicts. With everything going on around the world today, it is easy to want to identify with ‘your own group’, knowing this creates a sense of belonging and safety. But whether you live in rural Illinois, central Chicago, or anywhere around the globe, our goal is to work towards establishing relationships with people – people who all have cultures. Contact us for more inquiry.

As someone who grew up in Nigeria and moved to the States early on in my pre-teens, I tend to see the world very differently from someone who grew up in Chicago – but we both know what it is like to wake up in the morning and look forward to the adventures and struggles of life. Having lived more than half of my life in this country, I am still faced and struggle with acculturation. I am repeatedly faced with the sad realization that the identity I was born into is slowly fading away. I often find myself struggling to hold on to my Nigerian culture/beliefs and even though I do not fully consider myself American, It is difficult to identify fully as a Nigerian. By being exposed to different extremes, it has opened my eyes to how different we are, but also how we can come together as one by putting aside our differences. Nevertheless, even though I am very proud of my Nigerian heritage, it is not very often that I will identify as strictly that. Today I would identity myself as who I am and what I have become – everything from my hobbies, heritage friends, personal characteristics, and my past experiences have helped me find myself, creating a sense of my own personal identity. Having a clearer sense of my cultural identity, I have been able to successfully navigate it in the contemporary world that is undoubtedly very interconnected and intercultural. The acceptance of my cultural identity continues to play a significant role in important life’s choices, therefore influencing my attitudes and behavior towards others with different cultural backgrounds.
With cultural identity, one thing to keep in mind is that we are all human beings. We all love deeply, want to learn, we all have hopes and dreams, and have experienced pain and fear. Conversely, it is difficult to pretend that our cultures and differences don’t matter, or that they don’t exist, wishing that we could all be alike and that discrimination doesn’t exist.
The question is, why is it important to understand cultural identities?
  • First, living in a country that could easily be considered the most diverse country in the world, and being able to understand and relate to those with different backgrounds creates a sense of belonging and inclusion. Hence, providing a sense of security, which creates opportunities to build and foster relationships with people different from ourselves.
  • Secondly, acknowledging the breadth of cultural identity is crucial to any efforts to move beyond racism, sexism, -ism, etc., and to bring about reconciliation between cultural groups.
  • Thirdly, understanding others with different cultural identities makes possible for a better knowledge of oneself, as individuals are defined in relation to other people-both individually and collectively.
  • Lastly, the important thing to remember is that everyone, no matter what their cultural background, has different opinions, habits and ways of life. The quicker we accept that everyone is different, the easier it becomes to understand and embrace our cultural differences.
Ways of understanding cultural differences:
  • Become self-aware by working out your own beliefs, values and personal biases. In doing this you are able to think about how these personal traits might impact on your approach to understanding. Cultural differences.
  • Do your own research. Learning about different cultures can be a great way of developing an understanding of cultural diversity. Engage in a bit of research either online or through books and study some of the history and traditions of other cultures.
  • Talk to someone from a different cultural background, and try and get to know them a bit better. You don’t necessarily have to ask them directly about their culture, but by getting to know them you’ll automatically find out more about their life and experiences.
  • Travel! One of the best ways to experience and understand other cultures is to actually live among them.
  • Just be more accepting. Sometimes it’s not that easy to gain an understanding of cultural difference for whatever reason. In these situations the best approach is just to accept that some people are different and that’s ok.
So, as you soak in all the experiences from the Olympics, keep in mind that even though we all look and act differently, being able to recognize and being sensitive to those cultural differences is essential to building the trust needed to form cohesive relationships. This cohesion can especially be seen during the Games – even countries with extreme differences, countries at war, set aside these differences while competing against each other in a peaceful manner and celebrating with unanimous pride and courage.