The ability to learn from, and relate respectfully to, people of your own culture as well as other cultures is known as “cultural responsivity”. Being culturally responsive requires openness to the viewpoints, thoughts, and experiences of others.
Without going into the myriad of reasons why, Guyanese from all walks of life should, by now, understand that our culture is dynamic and complex. Owing to an interesting amalgamation of six ethnicities, Guyana’s cultural fabric is interwoven with African, East Indian, Portuguese, Chinese, Indigenous and European influences.
In the past, Guyana has been described as an example to other countries of religious and cultural tolerance, but most can accede that the journey has not been without its challenges. In fact, we cannot, for one nanosecond, cease in our drive to build the understanding and tolerance which are vital for our continued economic and social development.
Most of today’s international conflicts are driven by differences, including economic and class tensions, and are masked by ethnic and religious differences. Thankfully, Guyana has been spared the atrocities associated with religious and cultural extremism.
One of the main factors which have essentially shielded us is that many in our society have remained open to the viewpoints, thoughts, and experiences of others, and have actively sought to explore and honour those differences. We have, in essence, been culturally responsive.
On Wednesday, the Indigenous Peoples Affairs Ministry launched the annual Heritage Festival at the Umana Yana, “Guyana’s first peoples; sustaining a rich cultural environment”. The launch was done in the spirit of International Day of World Indigenous Peoples.
Over the next month, we will join our indigenous brothers and sisters in celebrating Amerindian Heritage, and will be invited to participate in the many planned activities across the country. We will undoubtedly be exposed to many aspects of the Amerindians’ rich and diverse traditions, most of which we are familiar with; many will be new to us.
In these instances, it is apt that we remain respectful and mindful of our viewpoints, lest we offend. We must at all times guard against the temptation to judge as wrong views that are different from ours. There will be instances when cultural norms of one group may make us uncomfortable. However, we must resist the urge to judge. Instead, we should make a conscious effort to understand the other perspective.
Last year, during the launch of the Amerindian Heritage celebrations, a religious leader was reported to have made several unpleasant remarks which were said to have offended our indigenous community. While the ‘faux pas’ was dismissed as being “a matter of opinion”, it is apposite for our leaders to take note. This is especially directed to our religious leaders, who have a vital role to play in leading the fight for religious and cultural harmony.
It is true that we are entitled to our opinions; it is also true that we should feel comfortable expressing our views, this goes without saying. However, we need to avoid imposing our own values on others. Again, because we live in a plural society, we need to make a conscious effort to understand the perspectives of others.
It goes without saying that our answers to important societal problems will not be identical. Also, our understanding of the causes of existing issues will not have the same frame of reference. But, like most things, the development of our cultural identity, our tolerance and understanding are all ongoing processes.
Every opportunity that our society is given to celebrate and unite can be used as a platform where individuals, organisations and groups can become aware of each other and recognise existing commonalities.
During the coming month, scores of events will be held nationwide to celebrate a very important aspect of our culture; let us proceed in the spirit of peace, tolerance and cooperation, and let us continue to encourage and practise a culturally responsive attitude.