I first became aware of the concept of cultural grouping when I moved to London. The cultural diversity of the city like London is largely due to people who come from all over the world.
However, lost in the foreign environment, these people often find some comfort, understanding and sense of identity by grouping and interaction with people from the same cultural backgrounds. This group thinking is often projected around people’s lifestyle. They are visible everywhere – at work, in classrooms, parties, clubs, living areas and social events.
The common problem of group thinking is that groups are often closed systems. There is very limited understanding, and consequently a lot of mistrust between people from different groups. The concept of tolerance is seen by most as a simple, practical and civilised solution to the problem. One just accepts that people have different ways of seeing things, and that their rights to be different should be respected to a certain degree of acceptable social behaviour.
The problem with tolerance is that it helps to avoid head-to-head conflicts, but it doesn’t really encourage a healthy dialogue and learning of each other. If you go to a place where there is very high diversity, but limited possibility of contact between compatriots the social norms and rules are very different. If you are, for example, in a closed boarding school, with every person coming from a different country, you might find yourself very lost and isolated at first. However, once you are forced to interact, build relationships and understand people around you, it becomes much easier for you to accept and even embrace their differences.
In a way, tolerance is a temporary protective barrier, whereas, acceptance is a bond that helps to establish much more permanent relationship of mutual trust and support.
For the ideas, special thanks to the College du Leman, Gen-X, city of London and London School of Economics.