On the 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It is said that what drove much of the ‘Brexit’ vote, fuelled by some extremist political influences, was concern about immigration and extremism. People were concerned about the ongoing impact of immigration upon austerity, shortage of jobs, increasing cost of housing and the demands on public services such as schools and hospitals. This was combined together with a fear about difference and diversity.
There is an under-riding fear within European society, and within the human spirit globally, about difference and diversity. Human fear can create prejudice, it causes people to distance themselves from one another, prevent immigration and demonise those they don’t understand. It can divide our world in ugly ways even to the extent of building walls such as the Berlin Wall, which annexed West Germany from East Germany from 1961-1989. During the 2016 American Presidential race, it led Donald Trump to propose a wall be built between the United States and Mexico.
Historically, I can think of lots of situations when I have disagreed badly because I haven’t been willing to accept that someone is different. In the last decade, I have proactively sought out people who are different to me in business and in social settings. I continue to work hard at embracing difference in wider family relationships.
People look different, sound different and think differently. They communicate differently, learn differently and build relationships differently. An inability to accept and welcome these differences, is one of the greatest causes of people disagreeing badly. Rigidity, stubbornness and arrogance insists that other people should not be different but should be like us – but they are not.
By contrast, the opportunity to learn to build relationships with people who are different from us enables us to disagree well. Acknowledging that differences exist, appreciating what those differences are and then adapting ourselves to those differences is critically important for the future of our communities, businesses and world.
Multiculturalism’s approach to welcoming difference, is the co-existence of varied beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. This sounds great, but the lack of integration can lead to the development of ghettos and tension between different cultural groups.
Cultural integration on the other hand welcomes difference but varied beliefs, attitudes and behaviours are assumed into a dominant culture. This approach can lack respect for difference and lead to cross cultural resentment and tension.
How we welcome difference and create cohesive communities and societies is going to continue to exercise our political, civic and community leaders. Cultural agility, rather than rigidity, is going to be required to get us to where we want to be. The future of building a peaceful and just world is contingent on our ability to disagree well by welcoming difference in our relationships.