Rejecting the cultural tourist

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Written by:

Michael Graves

Contributing Writer


As social technology and economic interaction increases and transcends national boundaries, developed society has placed a greater focus on “globalization.” This concept has birthed a cultural shift — to understand the outsider, tolerate the different and interact with the unknown — but only in a surface-level way. This rapid push toward diversification led to an acceptance of cultural tourism, an easy way to encounter those with whom we are not familiar, but not fully comprehend lifestyles, cultures, religions and inter-community practices.

As we interact with society, we must push against the concept of cultural tourism and create a new standard of interaction. When given the choice to leave the room when conversation and interplay turn south, we must choose to stay. This involves respecting the local while merging the global through the creation of shared meaning. It means building a new foundation of interaction that respects the pillars of previously established society, yet allowing that new foundation to support these pillars. It allows those pillars to exist while simultaneously connecting them in a way that lets these notions of culture stand alone, but gives them significance as they support a global society together. Indeed, as one pillar may fall, the others may still uphold these new societal norms. However, a strong foundation and coexisting supporting pillars create the strongest and most sustainable society.

I am passionate to support a global effort to create this new foundation and support our own cultural pillars while others support the general structure of society with us. This process is not easy. Indeed it is quite complex, but this only leads me to believe it is a project that is all the more important to undertake. To build a foundation we must not simply tolerate, but accept within moral means the ways of living that may make us uncomfortable.

When we interact with “the unknown,” whatever that may be, we cannot just watch or passively participate.

In China, we must not just bow, but understand the meaning of the bow and humbly let that meaning consume us as we build relationships. In Kenya, we must not just build the well but learn from the spirit of empowerment that drives the community we deem to be “third world.” In Peru, we must appreciate the long dinners and time it takes to build rapport with one another.

Of course, even this argument only scrapes the top layer of soil needed to begin construction of this new foundation, but it is a start. As we continue to excavate and explore this new society we have in many ways accidentally created, we must remember our privileged opportunity to find new meanings of the term globalization, be proud of our own local setting, all the while finding strength in the ability to embrace openness as we share the world with each other.

At the very least, throughout this process one thing unites us all — we move into the unknown together, and we must pledge to find new meaning with one another amid the unstoppable force of globalization.

Graves is a senior majoring in communications and religious studies.

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