Finding Harmony in Diversity: Dichotomy of Individuality and Cultural Norms
BY MRUNAL DEORE '24
In the constant beat of the city, there is a versatile motion of eyes. Some eyes soar upward to see the tall skyscrapers of New York, another steadily follows the rhythm of the waves in Los Angeles, another takes in the architecture in Paris, or another simply tracks the endless waves of people and traffic in Mumbai. Amidst the diverse cityscapes, each observer becomes an individual, their eyes reflecting their souls. Individuality is what keeps one unique in a wave of people. It's the sum of a unique blend of thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the world. Pondering the influences that shape identity, it’s crucial to understand the dichotomy between nature and nurture. It raises the question of whether individuality comes from the traits people are born with, or whether they are the reflection of how different places mold identities. Yet the culture one grows up in includes both the nature and nurture aspects of one’s identity. A first introduction with oneself is through the culture one grows up in. Cultural diversity enriches individuals with unique perspectives, but the fear of not fitting in or facing rejection within one's own culture can stifle self-expression. Balancing tradition and individuality becomes a delicate balance, offering both challenges and opportunities for personal and cultural growth.
Diversity leads to productivity. For instance, in a Forbes article, companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits. In a previous study in 2014, that increase had been 35%. At the board of directors level, more ethnically and culturally diverse companies were 43% more likely to see above-average profits, showing a significant correlation between diversity and performance. In order to stand out in the competitive workforce, companies benefit from the fusion of multiple cultural ideas. This blend of perspectives does not just foster an inclusive workplace, but also reflects levels of high productivity and success.
While there are many cultural ideologies that differ, a good comparison would be the opposite reactions regarding practices in Eastern and Western cultures. In Western cultures, kids are excited to start a new life once they are in college. The thought of owning their own house, car, and everything in between revitalizes them. However, in Asian cultures, staying with your parents well after graduating or even getting married is seen as a sign of respect to your elders for all the sacrifices and money they put in raising their children. For example, in an interview by Oprah Winfrey with former Miss Universe and renowned Bollywood actress, Aishwarya Rai, and her husband, Abhishek, Oprah asks: “You live with your parents? How does that work?” Abhishek countered, “You live with your parents?” to which Oprah said that she doesn’t. Abhishek then asked her, “How does that work?” This distinct difference between adulthood is a polar opposite to the way of life in the Western world. Moreover, Jackie Chan said that even though he doesn’t profit as much for dubbing movies centered around Chinese culture, he still pursues it because he wants to show Chinese culture through a foreign perspective to a global audience. His statement reflects his commitment to breaking the stereotypes that are surrounded around Chinese culture. All in all, individuals are always striving to make their culture understood on a worldwide scale.
However, despite the many benefits that come with embracing individuality through culture, societal constraints are still overlooked. Some cultures tend to be more conservative, but it’s important to break those boundaries while maintaining a sense of belonging. The tension arises when an individual, despite their love and pride for their culture, grapples with the fear of rejection or alienation. The fear of judgment or discrimination can stifle the expression of their true selves. This internal conflict not only challenges personal growth, but also questions the inclusivity and adaptability of cultural norms to the spectrum of human identities. For example, LGBT is still a growing movement in many cultures outside of America; the same can be said about many career options. Financial stability transcends to overall stability in life, and for many cultures, the career of becoming something like an author or a painter full time is looked down upon as more of a mere hobby alongside an unfavorable but traditional 9 to 5. With gender roles, women are told to do more “feminine” jobs, or carry their family responsibilities with more rigor than men. Similarly, therapy is looked down upon in some other cultures because mental distress has been seen as a sign of weakness rather than higher emotional intelligence in many cultures. Therapy can help an individual navigate their identities in order to work through problems like fitting in while also staying true to themselves. When flexibility is encouraged in cultures, many individuals find it easier to connect to the world around themselves by applying a unique lens that comes from within them.
Balancing the importance of cultural ideas while creating an inclusive environment for marginalized groups involves fostering an open dialogue, promoting education, and advocating for change. One of the effective ways to help this will be recognizing the changing world. Most of these stereotypes stem from the older generation’s misunderstanding that kids want to change the roots of the culture, but in reality it’s just adapting with an open mind. Kids can still advocate for individuality while loving their roots and culture. By encouraging open conversations, and establishing a necessary shift in traditional norms to adapt to the new times, individuals can balance the dichotomy between individuality and societal contexts.
By blending the preservation of cultural ideas while also committing to having an open mind to the ever-changing world, society can create spaces where people feel valued in their communities they love and want to fit in with, while also retaining their individuality. It’s a journey that requires cooperation and acceptance from all the parties involved, keeping in mind that communication is key. Building a rich and modern cultural tapestry reflects on having an inclusive future for posterity.