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Is cultural sensitivity still a thing?

Thinking back, it seems a lot of thought once went into travel – seeing new places, meeting new people. The world was large, relatively unknown, risky and time-consuming to get around. Doing so presumably took planning, intention and a sense for making the most of the opportunity. Also, perhaps, of getting to know others and how humans live in other parts of the globe.

Because we surely all live quite differently? Even within the same street, town or country each home operates by its own rules, standards and patterns of behaviour. All the subtle ways in which things are done; the reasoning and history behind every choice we’re habitually or consciously making. The rhythms and meaning to all we’re doing.

Within the basic formulas of human existence – home, family, community, food, celebration – there’s all this innovation in how we might go about things. Behind almost everything we do there’s this variation of style, tradition, belief, thought, intention. The lives we weave together effectively carrying that understanding out through all our actions to form the societies that hopefully enrich and sustain us (Notes One).

If we look at different places as embodied ways of being – all the ideas and practices people are, in some way, inspired to uphold – the world’s almost this delightful workshop of all the ways we might live our lives as human beings. The concepts of family, home and community life might be timeless, but how we do these things can clearly withstand our endless differentiation.

But, now, we’re so easily able to travel around, taking ourselves and our ideas about life to these other places. And, for some reason, alongside that “ease” seems to have come this sense of our superimposed personal experience being perhaps more important than the pre-existing realities of our desired location.

Maybe it’s part and parcel of individualism? That personal experiences are more significant than the collective, external, historical narratives of other people or places (Notes Two). This sense in which we’re all writing our own stories, showcasing our own style and interests, creating our own brand through the portfolio of our online existence and so forth.

In that context, travel can become less about respectfully coexisting and learning the subtleties of another culture and more a chance to glean whatever “we” want most from the opportunity. That said, it’s perhaps always a subtle interaction of both? Going somewhere, we bring our own perspectives and relate them to all we find around us – comparing, contrasting and noticing how things are done.

Attitudes we bring to life, though, surely paint a picture for others? Approaching people and places with respectful interest is quite different from striding roughshod through other lives, traditions and conventions. Which is maybe just one challenge of modern life: to skilfully, somewhat sensitively coexist within this much-smaller world.

With all the ways we’re now brought together – so often treading on one another’s toes – do we insist on our own way of being, defer to theirs, or some creative interblending of the two?

Notes and References:

Note 1: The conversation of society
Note 1: Social starting points for modern ways
Note 1: Shopping around for a society
Note 1: Human nature and community life
Note 1: Society as an imposition?
Note 2: The struggle with being alive
Note 2: Right to look out for ourselves?
Note 2: What inspires collective endeavours
Note 2: Do we know what stands before us?
Note 2: Having boundaries

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