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The Importance of Understanding Other Cultures

“It’s different cultures that make the world go round at the end of the day.”

Samantha Fox

Culture has always been a huge part of everyone’s lives. What is culture? According to Merriam Webster, it is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that makes a society unique or be different from others. In other words, culture defines what a person is and how they think and act. It influences every single thing they do, starting from when they wake up to when they fall back asleep. There are hundreds of cultures in this world, and none of them are exactly the same. A person who lives in a community might not be familiar with other communities’ cultures and vice versa. The question is, is it important for one to learn and understand other cultures?

To understand other cultures means having to be open to changes as well as accepting them. Since every culture is different, some of them might go against the culture or practice that we have believed in our lives. This can be quite troublesome for some people. Because of this, they prefer not to bother with learning and understanding other cultures. They stick to what they are already familiar with instead. Understanding other cultures is also seen as unnecessary for people who stay in one place and never travel elsewhere. There is no point in doing that since they do not have to meet anyone from new places or cultures. The people they see every day have the same custom as them, so they do not have to learn anything new. This also applies to people who live in remote areas. They are stuck in their “small world.” Understanding other cultures is not important for them as everyone comes from the same place with the same principles. However, I do not agree with these statements. I believe it is essential for us to understand other cultures, regardless of their usage in our lives.

To begin with, understanding other cultures helps us broaden our horizons. By learning new ways of doing simple things like preparing food, eating, and welcoming guests, to more complicated ones like cultural celebrations and prayers, we can get new perspectives from many sides. The Institute for Asian Studies director at Portland State University, Watanabe, explained in a US News article that learning about a culture, its language, and society encourages people to develop different ways of thinking. In a Keystone Bachelor Studies interview, a student from the University of Oslo, Silje Ormåsen, who studied as a foreign student in California, mentioned how she was surprised to learn about new cultures because of the variant perspectives she found from many other students from different cultural backgrounds. She also added that these perspectives apply to all aspects of life and that she was glad about it, for it could assist her in gaining more knowledge.  This, of course, would be beneficial for us because it can help to evolve a new way of thinking which could be useful for approaching and solving problems. 

The next reason why understanding other cultures is important is that it maintains minimizing stereotypes. It is no surprise that there are a lot of labels given to different cultures around the world. Those stereotypes might include how culture is wrong in doing this, how they are strange for doing that, how their habits are disturbing, etc. To illustrate, Sundanese women are known to be “lazy” and “money oriented” since they would stay at home grooming themselves instead of helping their partners taking care of the household. Another example is how Javanese people are seen to be two-faced because they always act sweet on the outside. People who do not understand their cultures will think based on the “identity” given to them. The recent news about a Muslim boy killing his teacher in France can also create some kind of stereotype. Those who do not know what the Islamic culture is really like will likely judge its believers based on the stereotype that Islam is cruel, Islam does not teach about peace, and Muslims are terrorists. By learning and understanding other cultures, we will know that some of these stereotypes are actually far from the real truth and these cultures are better than what we have imagined them to be. 

Conflicts among cultures could be avoided when we understand other cultures. The conflicts that arise usually start with the misunderstanding of the speeches and behaviors of people from different cultures. This could lead to someone getting offended, arguments between individuals or groups, and even violence. To resolve this conflict, we should inform and teach ourselves their cultures so that we can get a good understanding and steer clear of disagreements. For instance, my cousin from East Java who came over to my house a few weeks ago talked loudly in a straightforward manner which I found very rude. I then asked one of my friends who comes from there too. Turns out, people from East Java are quite different from me as a person from Jogja. We Jogjanese tend to keep our image and opinions to ourselves whilst they say what is on their mind out loud. By knowing and understanding the East Javanese culture of talking, I do not think negatively of my cousin anymore. This shows that understanding other people’s cultures can help to maintain peace and make us realize that everyone is different and unique. Rachael Bentley, a St. Olaf College student who takes a gamelan course, said in an interview that learning from a diverse range of cultures makes us better understand the world by giving us new ways to approach things and allow us to engage with people across cultures.  We will know why some people do things the way they do. One way or another, we will have to respect them and accept their differences. 

Learning and understanding other cultures is also essential for it will give us an opportunity to enjoy new experiences. Learning a new culture means opening ourselves up to new things and people from different backgrounds. By doing so, we can get exposed to new experiences by, for example, taking part in different cultural celebrations, learning how to play new musical instruments, or participating in traditional dances, the foreign students learning Indonesian language and culture in the Indonesian Embassy in London are a great example. By understanding the Indonesian culture, they can join in Wayang performances, sing, and dance to traditional Indonesian songs with sinden, taste Indonesian street foods, and even visit the historical places in Indonesia.

The last reason why understanding other cultures is important is that it will help us acknowledge our own culture. When we learn to appreciate other people’s cultures, we would question how they compare and contrast to our own. This would incite us to wonder and dig deeper into our own culture so we can discover the differences and similarities. Furthermore, understanding other cultures means meeting new people, which leads to them asking questions about our origin. We would start thinking about our country, history, and aspects of our personality that have been influenced by our cultural identity. We might be surprised at how much we lack in understanding our own culture. For example, a study done by Sanur, Hasyim, and Hanzi shows that only 37.5% of the people in South Lampung understand the culture of Jatilan well. A small percentage of them do not even know what it is and have no interest in learning about it. Research from Neliti also shows that a lack of cultural understanding in the traditional musical instrument Tebah Genang Manang Brani is seen in Pontianak. More than a quarter of the people do not understand nor play this instrument. By understanding other cultures, this absence of understanding our own culture could be solved.

To summarize, I think it is necessary for us to learn and understand other cultures. Not only does this prevent conflicts and misunderstanding among cultures, but it also helps us broaden our knowledge and perspective of the world, as well as understanding our own culture. Moreover, understanding other cultures will help us realize that there are different types of people in this world, and we cannot judge them but rather accept and love them for who they are. 

References:

Sanur, Y. (n.d.). SIKAP PEMUDA TERHADAP BUDAYA DAERAH JATILAN DI DESA REJOMULYO LAMPUNG SELATAN. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/297952461.pdf

Sundari. (2019, May 21). FAKTOR-FAKTOR PENYEBAB KURANGNYA MINAT REMAJA DALAM MELESTARIKAN SYAIR SENJANG SEBAGAI SALAH SATU BUDAYA SEKAYU KABUPATEN MUSI BANYUASIN. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://repository.unsri.ac.id/1025/1/RAMA_87205_06051181419021_0021126302_0015116901_01_front_ref.pdf

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