The complexity of cultures and civilizations is something that globalization and media are ceaselessly trying to homogenize- stereotyping entire regions, underplaying the startling differences in cultures, and portraying differences that should be positive as negative oddities with a lot of potential to start conflict.
Denmark. I’ve always known that the Danish capital was Copenhagen, I knew that they had green, rolling plains and a whole lot of cows, and I knew that my favorite dairy products were made in Denmark. I had met a few Danish people who I automatically classified with the rest of the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Northern Europeans who were naturally “colder” than Mediterraneans and who generally preferred to mind their own business.
One of the exercises we did at the dialogue workshop consisted of having each person write down a demonstration slogan that they think is vital to the betterment of today’s world and in which they would go protest for. After the first round in which each person represented their own slogan, everyone was asked to choose another person to demonstrate with based on the other person’s slogan.
The slogans contained things like “Better Education”, “Peace”, “Freedom of Thought” (mine), “Trust”, “Reconciliation”, and “Freedom of Belief”.
Dina, an Egyptian woman, went a step further from these generalizations and wrote a more specific slogan- “Palestine”. The most shining case of on-going injustice, where thoughts aren’t free and necessities don’t exist. Palestine; the ultimate breach of human rights. And to my surprise, the Danes agreed, because at the end of the exercise, “Palestine” was the most people chose to demonstrate about, and behind Dina stood an equal number of Danes and Arabs. I found it very surprising to listen to why they chose “Palestine”.
I mention this particular incident because during the cartoon controversy, the Israeli-Palestinian case was mentioned in every single conversation I had about the cartoons. “Do you think the newspaper would be allowed to draw something similar about the holocaust?” I also mention it because most of the Western youth I’ve met in my life (and believe me when I tell you they weren’t few) were extremely ignorant about Middle East politics, which led me to generalize that all of Western youth are the same. I was proven quite wrong.
There were other similar exercises that broke my own stereotypes about “all the Western world”. One was similar to a poll, where our facilitator asked a question and gave 4 choices as answers each of which was equivalent to each corner of the room. Seeing people physically representing their answers was fascinating, especially as the proportions of Arabs and Danes in each corner was equal.
For example, one of the questions was “In personal matters of great importance such as marriage, jobs, etc. what is your family’s role in your decision?” The choices were:
Corner 1- I would not even tell them
Corner 2- I would inform them of my decision
Corner 3- I would ask for their advice but do what I think is best
Corner 4- I would depend completely on their decision.
I would have thought that most of the Danes would stand in corner 1 and 2 and that the Arabs would stand in corners 3 and 4. To my surprise, there was an equal number of Danes and Arabs in corners 2 and 3, and no one at all stood in corners 1 and 4. Similar results were seen in the rest of the exercises.
Other than breaking cultural boundaries, the workshop was a lot of fun.
Here are some pictures of the workshop. (if you click on them they grow, wheee. Better yet, download Firefox and click on each box while pressing Control and gasp as something really magical happens).