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The Need to Build Bridges between cultures gets greater as the world gets smaller

When I started to free-lance, one of the most successful entrepreneurs that I knew advised me that, “Between an Indian and a snake, always hit the Indian first.” Indians, as friends and relatives told me, “Will always try to cheat you – it’s a cultural thing.”
Ironically my first break as a writer was from an Indian, a former Chief Executive of a local newspaper. And the first company that appreciated me for a job well done, also turned out to be Indian. This showed me an interesting paradox.

In “The Interconnected world,” technologies like the Internet and trade pacts are erasing barriers. At no time in history has the need been greater for cultures to co-operate for mutual progress and prosperity. As our new Prime Minister says, “We need to make friends to survive.”

But at the same time cultural gaps and misunderstandings remain or in the case of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia they got worse. Thankfully Singapore has avoided this. But in spite of nearly four decades of living together and active national campaigns cultural gaps and misunderstandings remain between communities in Singapore. With these gaps and misunderstandings in our small island, how can we bridge gaps in the world?

The anthropologist, Levi Strauss, believed that people would inevitably find differences to identify themselves from each other. People should rightfully take pride in their heritage. I am proud of being Cantonese as much as I am Chinese and Singaporean. But in this age of economic interdependence, it has to be more important to get people to celebrate their similarities.

A radical move for Singapore would be to abolish classifications by race. Physiological and linguistic difference between ethnicities and cultures are different enough for people to be able to identify themselves by what they’re not. Is it necessary for these differences to be made official by the government?

Interracial marriage could also be promoted. Senator Bullworth, summed it up, “We should all f*** each other until we’re all the same color.” This will go a long way into eliminating physiological and linguistic differences.” Its hard to distrust and misunderstand a particular ethnic or cultural group when your part of it.

On the internatinal and macro level NGO’s and government organizations like educational institutions have been active in trying to bridge cultural gaps. Commercial organizations could play do something useful by organizing events that go beyond their commercial interest.

For example Saudi Aramco will be organizing a series of seminars and a photo exhibition in September. This won’t help the company sell more oil or recruit workers and tourists to Saudi Arabia. But it will let Singaporeans meet Saudi Arabs who are not Osama Bin Laden.

It helped when people stopped seeing every German as Hitler. It would also help if people stopped seeing every Arab as Osama Bin Laden. It has to be encouraging that a company from the country associated with fostering Osama Bin Laden’s vile cultural chauvinism is taking a step to reach out to the world.

Although Singapore did not win any medals at the Olympics it was, as a Singaporean of Chinese decent see China do so well. As an Asian, I was glad to see Asian countries winning medals. But as a human being I rejoice that such feelings were channeled through sport and not war.

We are different. And we are rightfully proud of it. But we are more similar than we are different. And what is the point of our technologies and our economics if we persist in celebrating and creating divisions amongst ourselves. Just as the need to co-operate between cultures has never been greater, there has never been a greater need to bridge differences to celebrate our similarities. Only when we do this, can we achieve the type of society we should live in.

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