October 29, 2007

Considerations on dignity

I finally got down to it this weekend and worked my way through the last of my mother's care package of newspaper clippings.

Syndicated writer, David Ignatius, wrote an interesting piece that is relevant to our cross-cultural considerations, called, U.S. Neglects Dignity. It opens with a comment made by Lt. Col. David Kilcullen at a recent seminar on counterterrorism,

"We talk about democracy and human rights. Iraqis talk about justice and honor."

David I. calls this, "The beginning of wisdom for America....that not only applies to Iraq but to the range of problems in a world tired of listening to an American megaphone." He continues by saying that it is the issue of dignity, not democracy that vexes billions of people around the world.

The implicit message we send is that, "other countries should be more like us -- replacing their institutions, values and traditions with ours. We mean well, but people feel disrespected." Condoleezza Rice in particular loves to talk about, "the universality of American values."

Continuing on the "dignity agenda", he also quotes from former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski's new book, Second Chance. "In today's restless world, America needs to identify with the quest for universal human dignity, a dignity that embodies both freedom and democracy but also implies respect for cultural diversity."

So today I will send my dear readers off into their expat lives as ambassadors of this respect for cultural diversity -- we are in the trenches and although we don't always like the behaviors and "ways of being" that we see in another culture, we have to take on the task of trying to understand where they come from, their cultural roots, out of respect for their (and our) dignity.

Where to start? Recognize and accept the humbling fact that our values and beliefs are not necessarily universal ones. How is that for a cross-cultural moment!

a domani,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

According to Allen Bloom, if I am interpreting him well in his chapter on American college and university students in his book "The Closing of the American Mind," it would seem that we Americans are perhaps among the very few convinced cultural relativists around. Given the diversity within our own borders, I guess you might say we have been forced to. Consequently, respect for diversity should be considered a given among us.

Obviously something has happened in the meantime. Just what? Don't know and I do not feel up to hazarding a guess, educated or otherwise, but I am happy to see that public discourse in America is as lively and controversial as always.

(Just for the record:
The one group that refused to join the culturally relative melting pot on university and college campuses was my own, African-Americans, who have always suspected mischief lurking beneath the surface... our specialty.)