Embracing cultural diversity can elevate our human experience
The beauty of traversing the world is finding sublime stories, moments and experiences that make our lives richer. Embracing the diversity of world cultures has an indelible effect on us by inviting us to view and experience the world more expansively and deeply. Culture is the heartbeat of any nation and is the repository of our memories, creative expressions, values, nuances, festive rituals, and the way we live.
Research published by Arts Council England in 2014 affirmed the value of engaging in cultural experiences and extolled its multifaceted benefits on ourselves, our communities and the economy. When we touch on physical and mental well-being, research confirms that greater engagement with cultural activities results in a higher level of subjective well-being, improves cognitive abilities among children and young people, and alleviates specific medical conditions, such as anxiety, dementia, depression, and Parkinson’s disease.
Additionally, cultural experiences can strengthen community connections, reduce social isolation, and promote greater tolerance. Students who engage in arts and culture can see an improvement in their attainment levels in literacy and mathematics. Interestingly, students who come from low-income families are three times more likely to attain a degree if they engage in artistic and cultural activities at school. Furthermore, the UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates that the creative economy contributes 3 percent to global gross domestic product, making it a significant economic sector.
We can also see the intrinsic value of embracing cultural diversity in our daily lives. These past two weeks, I have been entranced by a South Korean TV drama entitled “Saimdang: Memoir of Colors,” which is inspired by the life of the famous 16th century Korean painter, poet and calligrapher Shin Saimdang. She is often fondly dubbed the “wise mother” in South Korea. In 2009, the Bank of Korea decided to issue a 50,000 won note bearing Shin’s portrait and paintings, emphasizing the importance of nurturing one’s talents while preserving family values.
Born in 1504 in a society that restricted women to solely domestic roles, Shin carved out a life for herself that embraced and expanded her intellectual and artistic talents. Unlike her peers, she received a comprehensive education in neo-Confucianism, literature and history, while also developing her unique talents for painting and poetry. The show has exposed me for the first time to “sijo” poetry, a traditional form of Korean poetry consisting of three-line verses that capture transcendent moments, ephemeral emotions, philosophical reflections, and bucolic scenes. Such expressions alert us to be more mindful of our surroundings.
The 40 paintings by Shin that have survived possess a subtle beauty, depicting everyday life, such as landscapes, flowers and butterflies. The scenes in “Saimdang: Memoir of Colors” where she ascends Mount Kumgang in order to paint the mystical peaks provide probably one of the most touching moments in the story. Shin was also a devoted mother and nurtured the talents of her children in the realms of art and poetry. One of her sons is the prominent Confucian scholar and social reformer Yi I. His legacy has also been recognized by being the face of the South Korean 5,000 won note. It is fair to say that, through this story, I have received a valuable education in life and come to further appreciate the value of cultural diversity.
Another important cultural epiphany I have encountered is the Danish concept of “hygge.” In recent years, Denmark has been consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. As a policymaker, their secrets to contentment intrigued me until I chanced upon “The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking, who also happens to be the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. Wiking explains that hygge is the secret behind Danes’ happiness. It can be described as creating an experience of “coziness of the soul,” simple pleasures, connections with others, and intimacy. One of the concepts in his hygge manifesto is the importance of fostering togetherness with loved ones by maintaining a work-life balance and planning experiences that strengthen love and friendship. Among the other things that Danes associate with hygge are hot drinks, music, board games, books, sweets, parties, and plants. Since embracing this way of life, I have actively changed my life to enjoy simple pleasures, feel more gratitude, and invest in more meaningful connections.
We can see the intrinsic value of embracing cultural diversity in our daily lives.
Before the lockdown, I had a burning desire to recreate some signature Italian and French recipes at home, so I enrolled in a cooking class led by a French-Italian chef at Top Chef Cooking Studio in Dubai. The menu was sumptuous, consisting of spinach and ricotta ravioli, potato gnocchi with wild mushroom cream, and dark chocolate and orange tart with orange blossom sorbet. Not only did I get an education in cooking, which was so much fun, but I also learned a lot about the heritage behind the dishes, the masterful techniques that people have perfected over the centuries, and how I can inject some joie de vivre into everyday life. Needless to say, it was a wonderful afternoon.
Mark Twain aptly said: “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” Embracing other cultures follows the same spirit; in sharing them with one another, we also magnify our own happiness and well-being.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view