A look back at the cultural lessons learned from 2020
The values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors shared, reinforced, and rewarded within a group are considered ‘culture.’ Culture is not static; instead, culture is dynamic and in constant transformation and development. It responds quickly to significant events that are happening within and around us.
Here are some of our observations of fundamental cultural shifts that occurred in 2020.
The events of 2020, including the tragic murder of George Floyd, have surfaced the longstanding issues of racism and inequality in our culture. These events indicate we must address racial injustice with personal and individual attention. It has become necessary to eliminate systemic racism from our society. Saying you are not racist is no longer enough, and everyone must take an active role in advocating for social justice. Now more than ever it is clear that every person has the right to be heard, to feel safe, and be treated with dignity and respect.
We are social animals, and a sense of belonging is hardwired in our DNA, just like the need for food and shelter. Where we are born remains an essential part of who we are and how we see ourselves. Home starts with people who look like us, speak like us, eat like us or act like us. But the work environment is multicultural. While we are at work, we encounter many people who do not think like us, have different beliefs and values, and build relationships differently. That is why similarities, differences, and representation matter.
Today we belong to multiple communities that go beyond our national identity. The social impact of the events from the last few years has created numerous and complex new identities – from our gender to ethnic background and even our dietary habits. What has also changed is the speed and the power with which we now assert our sense of sharing and the transformation of our idea of self. For the new generations (Gen Z, Gen Y, etc.), it is the user IDs and passwords for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok that have become as important as national identity in determining who they are and the company they keep. For these groups’ cyberspace is the new homeland where they are drawn to “like,” discuss or otherwise react with others who have any ethnicity, age, religious belief, or sexual orientation and who could be anywhere in the world. They visit these networks multiple times a day for information or community, or amusement.
In this world without borders, localization has taken precedence over globalization, and we see a rise of hyper-localism. Hyper-localism is when you trust your city, local community, or the professionals you interact with to handle the COVID-19 crisis rather than the federal or state governments, or you trust the restaurant you frequent more than the food and drug administration.
Working with Differences
Having an open attitude, a keen sense of self-/other-awareness is a great starting point for improving and sustaining a just culture that embraces today’s requirements for social justice that creates a robust humanity. Race, multiculturism, identity and hyper-localism have cannonballed us to thinking and behaving in new ways. The goal is not to not see differences. Here is an example: To not see someone’s skin color is not to know the person. A person’s skin color is who they are, not what they do. To ignore a primary characteristic of an individual can make them feel invisible or worse, devalued. We are all different. Therefore, we must embrace differences, explore differences and celebrate differences. In order to ‘do the right thing’, one must be able to have constructive conversations across cultural and personal differences.
2020 has been a year that we can learn from. The cultural lessons that can be taken away from 2020 can have a lasting, positive impact on our future. It is the duty of each of us to use the lessons from these events to improve the world around us.
This article is written by Ila Gandhi, Global Manager for Berlitz Cultural Navigator