How do you react when you see someone of another culture? What if they are Middle-Eastern? Or Pakistani? Do you see them as weird, annoyances or inconveniences? Do you see them somehow inferior? Or do you see them as human beings made in the image of God? There’s so much we miss out on when we live in ignorance of other cultures.
Being culturally sensitive can make you a better person. It shows you foods that you’ve missed out on and teach you social skills. It teaches you how to tolerate those who don’t act the way that you want to because you’ll see their culture has a part to play in it. You’ll make a lot more friends rather than enemies. It also helps in conducting business, negotiating, and travelling. More importantly, when you are willing to open your eyes and expand your horizons, we become like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Especially if you’re living in Canada, your “neighbor” is not going to have the same skin color as you. And God commands us to love them just as much as we love him.
When I was a travelling computer consultant, I spent several years living in the United States. Guess what kind of people I worked with? Not just the typical white-American, but also many brown-Indian immigrants! The reason behind this is that these Indian workers could be leveraged as cheap labor (thanks to the George Bush era) at approximately 1/3 the cost of an American employee. So then, they were effectively stealing the jobs of local Americans, at the same rate artificially boosting profits of corporations by increasing efficiency. For both reasons, I saw them being discriminated by locals. But when I worked with them, did I see them as “cheap labor”? Certainly not! I saw them as human beings who came from poor villages, studied hard in a good university, applied to a well-known company, and shipped their families over in order to find a better living with the foreknowledge they would face discrimination and exploitation.
They came from the far corners of India – Kolkata, Mumbai, Gujarat, Sri-Lanka, and New Dehli. With it, they shared with me their stories, their mannerisms, and most importantly their friendship. We treated each other as equal, because I was just as out of place (Chinese-Canadian) as they were, and I lived with some of them too. One moment that I’ll never forget, it was my last day and a team of us went out for lunch at a good Indian shack somewhere in New Jersey. All hats were off, and very little English was spoken that afternoon. I just listened and took it all in. At the end of the meal, I offered to pay for the 7 of us but the leader gently took my shoulder and said, “don’t worry I’ll pay for it man”. “Are you sure?” I asked. He gave me an Indian Bobble, indicating to me a firm yes to which I simply smiled and shook his hand.
Don’t get me wrong, none of this was smooth sailing. There’s always a risk of the other party not wanting to accept YOU for trying to get into their space. People will look at you funny. It takes a lot of courage to step out of one’s comfort zone and its way easier to live in a bubble. This is just a primer to more discussions on the topic of multiculturalism. Let me leave with you a couple of challenges to test your cultural sensitivity:
- Do you have close friends that are not the same ethnicity as you?
- Do you speak more than one language fluently or at least studying a different one?
- Do you like watching foreign film or media?
- Have you shopped in Arz Bakery, Pacific Mall, Little Italy, and Greek Town (Toronto only)?
- Have you ever had a desire to travel outside of Canada?
- Can you name five unique Korean dishes?
- Can you list 5 cultural groupings that generally don’t get along with another (e.g. Iranian-Iraq, Chinese-Black)?
Is there something you want to discuss related to culture? Please leave a question below.