[Advice] Culture Matters

Culture matters.

At the core of most conflicts around immigration, emigration, and refugee movement, are issues stemming from cultural differences between peoples.

We make assumptions due to attributions about other people’s culture. And we do the same about our own.

Social proofing, social sanctioning, and social cueing dictate that we work doggedly to reduce the level of dissonance in our individual lives, but also at the societal level.

And, of course, we believe that if someone else were just doing something about the situation, rather than us, it would be all better.

The thing is though, people from other cultures—immigrant and refugees included—believe the exact same things that people who are “native” to the countries they desire to go to believe in.

There are a few ways out of these conflicts, but none of them are short-term, none of them are easy, and none of them are pleasant:

Listen honestly to what people are actually saying who come from another cultural mindset. This is the hardest one which is why it’s listed first. Listening at mass comes through social and other forms of media, but it also comes through laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. When we listen honestly, we begin to hear and recognize context and subtext.

Learn to say “no” firmly, respectfully, and be prepared to defend the “no” with clarity, courage, and candor. The fact of the matter is, some refugees from some cultures and some immigrants from some cultures are no more a “fit” in one country than they are in another. But when a “no” is given that sounds like rhetoric, prejudice, or ignorance, it is unconvincing and seen as being based in prejudicial opinion. And the fever pitch to enter the country whose leaders have said “no” without sufficient explanation of why, rises inexorably.

Implement solutions that strike at the core of why culture matters: ideas, perspectives, beliefs, and values. If a nation (any nation) is not led by politicians whose values and beliefs match the people that they represent, then there is going to be a lack of desire to implement core solutions to cultural conflicts. This is a tough reality to face, which is why elections have consequences. If culture matters (and it does in considerations of refugee and immigrant populations) then the culture of the politicians and the nations that they lead should match up, both in word, and deed.

Cultural beliefs, values, and ideas, are part of the framing of many conflicts around the world. When there is a mismatch between cultural frames, there will be conflicts. It’s nice to consider building bridges across cultures, but the reality is much more complicated and fraught with danger.

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