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Culture & Community

Theodor W. Adorno once said, “Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality,” one devoid of individual freedom which ultimately induces cultural stagnation.

We live in a world where there is fear of the obscure and a craving for simplicity. We are content with our same friend group, school, and everyday lives. Surrounding ourselves with sameness, we find solace. When exposed to a difference in culture, our first instinct is to retreat.

I am an Indian-American, and for most of my life, my culture was black and white. I ate Indian foods, but wore American clothes. I conversed in my native language at home but switched to English when in the presence of others. To me, being Indian-American was a proxy for living half my life as an Indian and the other half as an American. There was no in between. The terms ‘diversity’ and ‘culture’ held no special meaning to me until I entered high school, where I was suddenly overwhelmed with cultural diversity. My world was no longer black and white and ‘culture’ was no longer the same.

I - if I’m being completely honest - freaked out. For the first time in my life, I was confused about who I was. It seemed as if my Indian and American parts were mashed into one. I was ashamed of my lack of knowledge and took the only action that my default permitted me to: I muted myself until I completely understood culture.

I did some research (quite literally searching up ‘culture’ on Google, my trusty friend), to forge my own definition of it. Below are my summarized findings.

Culture is:

  • Beautiful dances and tasty ethnic food

  • Traditional clothes

  • Meeting people of different backgrounds

But mostly, culture is about acceptance.

It is about how we embrace the differences in others as well as ourselves and utilize the gained wisdom to understand, innovate, and make a difference. It is to stand and grow with peers of different backgrounds, to learn their stories and struggles.

I have ultimately concluded that the tolerance of different traditions is the ticket to a better world - one where everyone is connected under the same cause and help each other. Whether it be American, African, Indian, Korean, etc., understanding and accepting that culture is the catalyst for positive change.

So I challenge you. Step a little out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in another person’s culture for a day. See what they see, feel what they feel. Who knows where it might lead.

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