I’ve been reading about multiculturalism in Europe and recently there are a growing number of European politicians stating that multiculturalism in their countries has failed. A lot of what these politicians are saying appeals to certain members of their societies.
To defend their position and their words they point to the consequences in Germany after Angela Merkel opened the German borders in 2015 to welcome approximately one million refugees. Most of the new immigrants came from countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I am aghast that Europe is now becoming a continent with a growing number of people who are becoming more nationalistic and in favour of introducing new legislation that is designed to target immigrants. Those forced to flee as a result of persecution or human rights violations such as torture could find doors firmly closed in the future.
What is causing this rising objection to people from foreign lands settling in Europe? I believe at the root of the change in heart is down to cultural issues. Many who are against immigration tell us that the erosion of their traditional way of life is a key reason why they want change.
Cultural diversity has been present in many societies for a very long time. Examples of cultural diversity go back as far as ancient Greece where various regions had different costumes, traditions, dialects and identities.
One popular approach to understanding culture is to use the onion metaphor. Like an onion, culture can be seen as having different layers both visible and invisible. At the surface are various behaviours, dress, food, language, etc. that can easily be compared.
At the core of the onion is where the cultural belief software exists. This is the part of someone’s culture that people who are not from the same culture find difficult to understand and as a result are not aware of many of the belief systems.
We need to understand cultures are not mass produced in a short period of time but are built up over many generations. Asking people to abandon their cultural beliefs for another alien culture is a big ask. I know that some politicians in Europe are emphasising that immigrants from other cultures must abandon their own culture and as a result have a shared identity, common purpose and mutual obligations with the people of the adopted homeland.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked in and travelled to many countries around the world. During my time working in Bahrain I was fortunate to be part of a business expansion that resulted in the company having businesses across the Middle East and Africa.
We had across the business only one set of company values which everyone was expected to not only understand but also follow. During the start of the project to introduce the values we spent a great deal of time listening to the teams in all parts of the business in order to make sure we had values that were relevant.
When I retired from the company almost 15 years after embarking on developing the values, they were still in place and totally relevant. As you can imagine we had many different people from different cultures in the business, but we had a set of values that worked for them all.
Living and working together in harmony is possible.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org