In 2009, researchers at Bertelsmann Stiftung and the University of Heidelberg’s Institute of Political Science studied the cultural dimensions of global conflicts in an attempt to better understand how people of different cultures and religions can come together in peace.
They reported that cultural conflicts—domestic, interstate or transnational conflicts in which the actors make reference to language, religion and/or historical contexts—have outnumbered non-cultural conflicts globally since the mid-1980s and are rising. In an increasingly interconnected world, the risk of cultural conflict has intensified.
The researchers also found that, both internationally and domestically, cultural conflicts are particularly prone to violence. Our cultural frameworks are intimately tied to our self-concept. Differences in values, beliefs, and norms can trigger strong emotional resistance or backlash. Threats to a group’s cultural integrity are often accompanied by negative feelings, such as fear, hatred, or disgust. In its extreme form, cultural hatred can lead to terrorism, ethnic cleansing, or genocide.
The researchers concluded, however, that cultural conflict is not inevitable: different cultural groups can and do coexist peacefully across the globe when there is an “appreciation of diversity, a recognition of the other side’s equality, and intercultural competence”.
As technology and migration increase contact between different cultural groups, we need a fundamental transformation in how we interrelate with diverse others…moving from judgement and fear towards intercultural dialogue and understanding. Without cultural intelligence, the global village faces a fragile, conflict-laden, and violent future.
In the aftermath of distressing cultural violence, and particularly when threats to security persist, there is an increased likelihood of the activation of negative stereotypes, “us” vs. “them” categorisations, and ethnocentrism—a belief in the superiority of one’s own culture. These tendencies may be explicit or unconscious. Either way, such responses threaten unity at work and in our communities at a time when cohesion is most needed.
Organisations can play an important role in diffusing cultural tensions. Now is the time to focus on strengthening workplace cultures that decrease the tendency for divisions between different social groups and to promote intercultural dialogue and understanding. The benefits that flow from well-managed diversity and inclusion initiatives that incorporate cultural sensitivity support human prosperity and survival—goals that transcend, yet underpin, corporate success.
I would like to end my post this week by sharing a captivating video by neuroscientist Beau Lotto that explores the potential for digital storytelling to change the way we view ourselves and others—harnessing technology to disrupt deeply entrenched ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ divisions.
In today’s world, a more inclusive narrative is not only good for business—it is good corporate citizenship. What stories can our organisations tell to help rewire social perceptions and foster a safer world?