Fostering Friendship across Diverse Groups
Communities with diverse groups in their population have a lot going for them. Diversity promotes creative thinking, problem solving and novel ways at looking for solutions. It also harnesses cultural ideas that can help a community be resilient to external social and economic shocks, much like diversity in plant species protect the overall species during periods of climate disruption. Nonetheless, a diverse population has many things going against it if the community is unable to foster positive intercultural engagement.
Positive Intercultural Engagement is KEY
A key factor in addressing whether a diverse population leads to positive or negative outcomes in a community is highly dependent on the spatial segregation of diverse groups within that community. A community that is highly segregated will continue to perpetrate a negative view of the “other.” Spatial segregation complicates and negatively impacts the interactions between diverse groups and perpetuates perceived incompatible ideas, behaviors and values. Moreover, because segregation pits “us” versus “them,” it also cultivates unwarranted fears of scarcity of resources, resulting in a decrease in the willingness to use resources for the public good, a decrease in overall civic engagement and an uneven consolidation of power. As such, segregated diverse communities tend to have lower economic productivity compared with homogeneous communities.
However, improving intercultural exchange that fosters trust and solidarity through positive engagement tends to improve social and economic productivity and reduces spatial segregation. Such diverse communities actually tend to be more productive than homogeneous communities because they are able to tap into the benefits of diversity. Diverse intercultural communities also tend to be more tolerant and open to differences; have more efficient institutions; and higher level of civic engagement. Such positive intercultural engagement is usually driven by local government, local institutions and nonprofits and reach all spheres of society: schools, workplace and public spaces. Yet, like with any change, it starts with individuals like us (Evidence of the Economic and Social Advantages of Intercultural Cities Approach, March 2012).
Respecting Culture, Respecting Language
Respecting someone else’s culture and language is the first step to foster positive intercultural engagement. Taking the time to learn a language and a culture and encouraging the maintaining of native languages are ways individuals can foster bi-cultural respect and intercultural identity.
- Speaking more than one language promotes perspective taking and empathy toward others who speak the second language. (Visit Think Bilingual Austin’s Resource menu for ideas).
- Maintaining a native language fosters a strong sense of self and identity. Increased community support for native languages in addition to English helps to cultivate a sense of belonging for immigrant communities and fosters more positive engagement with others. (Click to learn more about Think Bilingual Advocacy committee).
- Promoting and attending diverse community cultural events in public spaces also serve to foster positive intercultural engagement and to celebrate and/or highlight the contributions from the various cultures that exist within the community. (Check out our Multicultural Community Calendar for ideas on how to participate).
When we value diversity, what we often think of are the wonderful benefits it provides to each and every one of us in the community. We take pleasure in our differences, we generate new knowledge, we raise new questions and we explore new approaches through innovation, creative thinking and better problem solving by working collaboratively and respectfully. Yet creating the benefits that diversity brings is not always easy as it forces groups within the community to confront stereotypes and biases and challenges us to look at others we perceive to be different in a new light. Yet, when we are able to cross these hurtles, we discover that the real joy and benefit of a more intercultural community are the wonderful and long-lasting friendships we make.
Happy Valentine’s Day!