“If we let all these migrants in, what will happen to our way of life?”
“We have to protect our culture.”
The above sentiments have been expressed many times in Australia and globally in recent weeks; in the media and public and private conversations. Europe’s “migrant crisis” has brought these topics to the fore in many countries, but it is not a new conversation. Any movement of people across national borders, or even across ethnic groups within borders, or slightly different groups within ethnicities, generates these questions.
Why do these questions arise? There are probably many factors, but a big chunk of it has to do with how much we rely on our “culture” to inform our individual identity.
As humans, our identity is vulnerable. We are constantly seeking to protect our sense of self – who we think we are. Whenever that is challenged, we feel like it is a personal attack. You can easily see this whenever someone is given “constructive feedback!”
Our culture is part of our identity. For example, most people will often feel nostalgic about how they grew up – they often want to preserve that and hope that their children will experience the same.
But one of the basic consequences of time is change. We are afraid of change. We are afraid of new. You only have to see how people often react to new technology to see that: “kids these days will never know how to write properly;” “we’re all going to lose our jobs” etc.
Change happens to individuals and groups – and cultures. Too often we forget that change can also be a good thing – think about how technology has actually improved our lives, such as improvements in healthcare and ability to stay in touch with overseas friends and family.
So how do we move forward? How do we overcome the fear of change? How do we retain the good things about our culture, but also embrace new things without being terrified – which can lead to outward expressions of hysteria, racism and xenophobia.
I don’t think I have all the answers – by a long shot. But I think we can start with the most important letter in the alphabet:
Knowing WHY helps us overcome fear. When there is a purpose behind sacrifice (even when that sacrifice is simple minor uncomfortableness for a while during change), humans have an amazing capacity to overcome their fears.
So what is the WHY in why it might be ok if a culture changes? Well in the case of the latest flow of migrants, I believe there is a compelling case to ensure innocent people are offered basic human rights – safety, shelter, food, water etc. On other occasions it may be a different why.
No one likes change for the sake of change – especially if in general, things are going pretty alright. But when change has a purpose behind it, we can learn to be flexible. We can learn from each other. It won’t be un-Australian etc- it will just be new-Australian, new-German, new-fill-in-the-blank. And even though our cultures may change, it won’t necessarily be bad – in fact, it may even be a good thing and in future, we may even get nostalgic about these things too 🙂