Last year I wrote an internal blog about the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which sparked some interesting discussions. I was recently asked if I fancied updating my blog, reflecting on our shared thoughts. Then the pandemic hit, and other priorities took over and it fell by the wayside. Never mind I was told, there’s a day for everything (they were right, 18 May is ‘No Dirty Dishes Day'! I can get onboard with that!). Fancy writing a blog about the United Nations World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development? [opens in new window] I’m always up for a challenge, so here are my thoughts on culture at the moment.
For me, and I suspect many of you, a lot of international days just pass me by without a second thought, so it’s quite nice to pause and have a think. And this did make me think, a lot, especially given the current circumstances. Culture is a word we use often in all sorts of context, we talk about creating organisational cultures, we even audit organisational cultures! But to me ‘culture’ means people - family, friends, communities, it conjures up images of shared experiences such as food, music, dance and art. Maybe it’s my mindset at the moment, but when I started thinking about this blog, all I could think about was what we’d lost in 2020, all the things we couldn’t celebrate or do. My vision of culture feels quite intangible right now. I remember watching the news in January and feeling sad that families in China were unable to celebrate the Chinese New Year because they were already in lockdown. More recently Jewish families have missed celebrating Passover together and Muslims have been breaking Ramadan fasts without their extended families. Outside of religious celebrations our theatres, museums, art classes, cinemas, restaurants are closed. It’s these pursuits that connect us as people, make us smile and give us energy.
But then the sun came out and my thoughts brightened up too. I realised human beings are very resilient and culture is not lost - it’s just different. If anything, perhaps cultural opportunities are more accessible than ever, for now mobility and cost isn’t too much of an issue. Maybe people’s culture and beliefs are coming into their own – we’ve certainly seen so much kindness in the past few months. We’ve all adapted, religious gatherings are happening virtually, families and friends have set up virtual pubs and restaurants, theatres are showing productions online for free (or a small fee), art classes have been on the telly, and quizzes, quizzes galore!!
The Cambridge Dictionary defines culture as ‘the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time’. There are various definitions, but this one resonated with me, it feels relevant. Our ways of life have been somewhat eroded lately, but new cultures have been created through the pandemic. We’ve created a ‘corona-culture’. At this point in time, the world has a shared understanding - we’re going through the same pain, same boredom, same appreciation, same longing to be with loved ones. From this, across the globe, we have united in a culture of clapping for key workers, established balcony bands, taken part in street aerobics, joined virtual choirs, broken virtual fasts and seen concerts bring musicians together from all over the globe. Is this progress? The United Nations states that ‘three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts have a cultural dimension’. It goes on to say that ‘bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability and development’. We probably have a long way to go to bridge cultural gaps, but at least we know we can if we want.
It’s been said that we’re living through history, but to put a spin on it - we’re making history by creating new customs and reinforcing beliefs that may live on longer than the virus. And these customs are not bound by religion, race or difference but by people. I think that’s progress.
About the author
Urvisha Perez is a Senior Auditor working in the Health Performance Team, she has worked for Audit Wales for four and a half years. Outside of work, Urvisha is a keen reader and over the last few years has been trying her hand at pottery!