The How-To: Developing Meaningful Relationships In Cosmopolitan And Multicultural Cities
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While I was growing up, I remember looking forward to a future of new possibilities. Because back then possibility meant getting a cool new video game to play after school or a doll that would talk back to you. Now, as Dubai is gearing up to build Hyperloop and Richard Branson wants to launch space tours, a doll that talks back is not as impressive as it once was. I see tremendous possibilities ahead, but I am also more concerned than ever about the future.
As people become more scattered around the world, it becomes harder and harder to find ‘your kind of people.’ I am not referring to the ‘one and only.’ I just mean finding people we can relate to, people with whom we can become friends, not for a year or two, but rather for decades to come. It seems like the global world opened a door we cannot shut, a door of endless choices. This ever-present sense of change creates a constant battle between alienation and belonging.
In the end, how do you really develop deep meaningful relationships in such cosmopolitan multicultural cities as Dubai, Singapore or New York, especially if many consider their time in these cities to be transitional points of their lives? A lot of people move to a big city for a great career opportunity, but only plan to stay for a few years, until a better opportunity comes along. Because of the endless choices, we constantly are looking for a ‘better’ chance.
While our worldview and perspectives differ, I am convinced that we all still speak the same language of common values, also known as culture. Yes, contrary to popular belief, it is culture that connects rather than separates us.
Nowadays we meet and interact with people from all over the world, starting in our classrooms and all the way up into boardrooms. Ultimately, we share many common experiences, regardless of our geographic location. It’s what globalization really feels like. It lures us into a notion that we are the same.
Nonetheless, we still want to stand out as individuals, in this sea of ‘commonality.’ You see subconsciously people always tend to seek comfort. It’s simply how our brains are wired. And what gives us that comfort? Culture. It provides us with the sense of belonging when we put on a traditional dress, it grounds us when we attend Friday prayer and it makes us feel at home when we offer tea to our guests regardless of the time of the day.
Both globalization and nationalism are two extremes, which erode diversity. Nationalism seeks to hold on to one particular identity, while globalization can paint over diversity with sameness.
So which of the two evils should we choose? The answer is neither. We do not have to be trapped in between being ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘nationalistic.’ Instead, we should find a way to marry the two.
We can continue to celebrate our nations, tribes, customs and traditions while we also seek to emphasize the ways in which we all are connected.
My personal understanding of culture’s reach has developed over the last few years, beginning in Amman and and after my move to Washington D.C. Everything was, quite literally, foreign. Pancakes replaced blini, sourdough bread replaced kaak. Today, however, regardless of the location, I am able to feel at home, whether they serve pancakes, blini or kaak bread.
It is culture that turns “the other” into “us” by way of shared understanding. It is the same shared understanding that can guide us to make political and economic decisions that benefit current, as well as future generations.
Generation Z is so tech savvy that even those of us who are quite adept in the online community are impressed by how much more they can do with their technology. However, while they are technologically literate, how cultured are they, really? Does technology make them more nationalistic or global? And is it possible that the same screen which provides endless speed and opportunity is also robbing us of our cultural identity?
In order for us, as a society, to figure out the answer to that question, we must pay more attention to culture. It’s culture that drives our economy, influences politics and financial markets. Because no matter how ambitious Saudi 2030 plans may be, we need to make sure that those plans withstand the cultural test?
If our world continues in the direction it is going, future generations could inherit a world where cultural ties are lost and replaced by isolation. Our grandchildren will have technological advances and entrepreneurial skills, but will they be able to pass the cultural test?
We need to imagine a world where we keep nationalism or globalization from eroding diversity for future generations. We want to build a future where we continue to prioritize community and connection. Technological advancement can take us a long way, but we need culture in order to reach a future of true excellence.