Learning to Live Together: Ethics Education for Promoting Cultural Diversity

A celebratory disruption and an invitation to action for living peacefully together across cultures. This could serve as a brief summary of the Cultural Diversity Day the United Nations celebrated worldwide on 21 May.

Sceptics would hold against the tradition of global celebratory days that they would be self-serving, and advance the critique that their symbolic character veils the necessary depth any meaningful engagement with cultural diversity requires. However, this critical stance can also be constructively used as a compelling force to investigate the topic’s societal and educational relevance more thoroughly. 

Between playful normalcy and hindrance to peaceful cohabitation
First and foremost, one will have to acknowledge cultural diversity as one of the salient characteristics of contemporary societies. Cultural diversity appears to be everywhere. There is probably no region, country, or metropolitan centre which is not marked by the lived reality of cultural coexistence and its manifestations. A phenomenon exacerbated by the increasing transnational mobility of people worldwide. People constantly move. And as they move across borders, they simultaneously carry their cultural baggage into new places and into encounters with people of other cultures. On the one hand, this constitutes an almost playful normalcy: people enjoy and recognise the celebration of cultural particularity as a sign of societal vitality. This comes to the fore when cultures permeate their habitual ethnic and national boundaries. The popularisation of regional cuisines, the admiration for arts, and the display of how these cultural expressions instigate creativity within and beyond their original settings illustrate cultures’ unique capacity to inspire people. This does not necessarily mean that cultural lines are blurred, or that cultural differences are not perceived, but more so that their presence is not considered a monolithic factor. There is always the possibility of being captivated, challenged and motivated through encounters with other cultures. This constitutes one layer of why it is crucial to reflect on cultural diversity.      

On the other hand, – and we all are only too conscious of this reality – cultural diversity confronts human beings time and again with their own ambiguities: the desire to flourish through the experience of difference and the desire to demarcate the boundaries of their cultural singularity. Thus, cultural differences are not only perceived as enriching, but sometimes also as hindrances to peaceful societal cohabitation. This is valid in as much as cultures are not articulated and lived out in a neutral vacuum, but are accompanied by worldviews, and by diverse ways of seeing and being in the world, not always being aligned with each other.                

Ethics, education and cultural diversity
This normative framework into which cultural diversity is enmeshed offers multiple anchors for an ethical and educational reflection. In times like these, educators in all regions of the world are challenged to rethink their educational vision. The global pandemic and the recurrent resurgence of violent conflicts between nations and at community levels have taught us, more than ever before, that humanity’s future is intimately bound to the manner in which - especially young - people are guided to embrace critical values for living together peacefully in an increasingly complex and diverse world. It appears that education, and ethics education in particular, will have to make a paradigmatic shift from providing specific sets of knowledge contents to forming characters and eliciting analytical lenses enabling the interpretation of the effect of cultural diversity on people’s lives.

However, the educational task does not end in this double bind of character formation and interpretive competence. Education that aims at societal transformation, that seeks to contribute to the solution of planetary challenges, needs to be an intentional and visionary education that leads people to understand their own situation as entangled with the lives of others. As Martin Luther King Jr eloquently expressed: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

It is in relation to this higher purpose of education – to unveil the genuine destiny of humankind – that cultural diversity becomes meaningful. Not so much as a programmatic agenda, but as a unique opportunity to discover oneself in the other, without erasing the distinctiveness of the cultural features and the ensuing identities. We understand how this is a delicate, and yet noble and irreplaceable educational task in the context of our fractured world. An ethics education sensitive to this state of affairs would anchor itself in the contextualisation of cultural diversity – that is in making tangible where cultures and differences between cultures both contribute to and hamper living together in the respective contexts. At the same time, such an intentional ethics education would nurture not only the cognitive (the understanding of culture and cultural differences), but also the relational and transformational dimensions attached to the topic. Cultural diversity would become in this educational perspective a fertile ground for building various alliances, for example, to advance social and ecological justice, or to champion the idea of global citizenship, with responsibility for all humanity and the earth at the heart of shared values, in full recognition and respect of different cultural systems wherefrom they emerge.

An ethics education ecosystem to learn to live together endeavours to cultivate such an environment, in which participants can discover one another in their diversity. We have begun to frame this environment as an ethical education ecosystem because we believe in the strength of intertwining different resources, for example, courses, publications and library collections, to the benefit of users who themselves form a fascinating network marked by an enriching cultural diversity.

This also comes to the fore in the academic course programme itself, where the live sessions constitute unique spaces of intercultural conversation, treasured by the students coming together not only for the purpose of advancing their individual careers, but to learn from one another in view of making a significant impact in their societies. The courses on Interreligious Collaboration for Peace model this experiential and transformational learning in an exemplary manner as students are invited to engage with the societal, cultural and religious plurality in their contexts through guided group projects, which they analyse collaboratively with their instructors. Students from diverse contexts, such as Hungary, Puerto Rico, Indonesia and Nigeria, emphasise time and again the importance of supporting one another in building bridges of understanding between different cultural and religious communities. Participants in this and other courses have recurrently underlined the critical importance of continuous dialogue and the readiness to immerse oneself as a responsible and active listener in situations marked by cultural diversity. The Academy Blue Table Webinar series constitute an equally vital conversational space, where values of mutual respect, solidarity, empathy and trust can be experienced and fostered. The series lives from the graciousness of the intervening experts, whose expertise, as much as their lived experiences and the manner in which they share these, promote these values in the most tangible manner: Ethics becomes the framework by which we all can learn from one another what it means to be human and to live together in peace.

Amélé Adamavi-Aho Ekué 
Academic Dean 

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