Valuing diversity begins at home

March 4, 2010

Hello world. It’s great to be here in Barcelona at Forum 2010 with the Anna Lindh Foundation.

Its quite something to see a thousand people here from 43 countries and to hear about the thousands of organisations that are working across the EuroMed region to promote inter-cultural dialogue.

The scale of the event and the opening speeches by renowned international figures shows the momentum behind the movement that began here in Barcelona 15 years ago.

For me I was struck by the themes of the opening remarks. What does it mean to develop intercultural dialogue? It is about not just governments and politicians, it is about reconciliation between people´s about regions, cities, towns and villages, communities and most of all about humanity.

What makes people focus more on the things they have in common as human beings rather than the things that seperate us from one another?

Ultimately male, female, Muslim, Jew or Christian, we are all alone in this world, we all want to love and be loved and everyone of us will one day face death. Those existential truths are not always easy to live with and no wonder people find comfort in ´belonging ´to a group to the exclusion of other groups.

Listening to the opening speeches at the forum, I was trying to remember something my teenage daughter said to me recently about what happens when her and I dont agree. Usually this is a clash between her will to establish her autonomy as a young woman and my will to guide her actions with the benefit of my greater experience. Sometimes we dont agree about what is OK and she might push the boundaries or I will assert my authority. Even though we clash as we both ´know´we are right, we usually manage to sort things out pretty well in the end because we both recognise that we are in this together and both working for the same ultimate goals.

Isn´t this the same thing that happens when communities have different ideas about what is right or wish to assert their rights to the perceived detriment of one another? Sadly, we all too often forget that we are ín this together – all of us travelling along on spaceship Earth.

When we forget that we are all ultimately one people with a richness of diversity and difference our grievances and bad feelings become embedded in our cultures and get passed on from one generation to the next.

Hearing these politicians and diplomats speaking, I admire and applaud their aims in pushing for dialogue between cultures. To achieve this I think we need to be acknowledging our shared humanity. How many people out there from different cultures, who would think of themselves as a world away from the secular life I lead in a corner of affluent Western Europe, are also challenged by their teenage daughters, woken in the night by their babies, worry about the future they create for their families? They too should remember that we are all of us in it together.

I guess what I am saying is that for me the ability to engage in intercultural dialogue starts in our own communities and our own families in the way we value and respond to the differences we find as we grow as individual human beings, as famiy units, communities, peoples and toward a shared human ideal of acceptance. Just as my teenage daughter is my teacher so we all have a lot to learn from one another.

I would be interested to know of any projects that bring together peope of different cultures around the specific issue of family life. Are there fathers like me in other parts of the world who would be interested in sharing ideas about how we face the day to day challenges of fatherhood, about the kind of world we want to create for our children and about how we will equip our children to live in it with one another.