We live in interesting times. At one end, we have become disconnected from mother nature and the environment that we live in. Humanity, many believe, is guilty of abusing the earth for the sake of short-term economic and political gains. At the other end, as a species we have never ever been more closely connected than we are at present to each other’s thoughts and feelings through the use of social media.
The tension between these two realities brings forth many questions about how one should live and in what manner to raise one’s children. Some have decided to tighten up security and build higher walls between themselves and everything that they perceive as weird and extreme, whilst others have decided to remove all the barriers to open dialogue and cultural multiplicity.
As an Emirati who is in the interesting position of being in a demographic minority in his own country, this topic holds special significance for me.
I have noticed that whenever a person has a problem that they cannot solve within the limits of their own cultural norms, that person becomes stuck. As long as they stay within the walls of those norms they are in effect choosing to stay stuck.
During my own search for higher purpose in my life I became stuck many times. I became incurable to myself and had to venture out to find my cure in unknown realms. I travelled to the UK monthly for over 18 months to train under a teacher, the Bafta award-winning playwright and reality-based martial artist Geoff Thompson. During my time with him I was initiated into physical extremes that make cage-fighting look very tame! To balance the fire of the physical intensity we were asked to endure, Geoff asked us to read holy scriptures from various sources. The words of the ancient Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita “The self is the self’s only friend, the self is the self’s only enemy” act as a balm to my soul to this very day, in times of need.
When I was in my first year of study in Scotland as an overseas student at Glasgow University, I found it very difficult to adapt to my new cultural surroundings. I was not used to living alone, making decisions alone and not having the direct support of my family and tribe.
I was not alone in feeling this challenge; other people from my part of the world and at the same stage of their life also felt the same. Some chose to abort their mission and return home, others chose to stick it out but only within their own cultural boundaries. They would not socialise with Scottish society and largely tended to stay in a lot and simply just study. When it was the weekend they would gather, cook food from home and play cards.
I tried doing that for a while but got no happy results. My spirit needed more and so I decided to engage with the culture fully. Not to brag, but my rendition of the unofficial version of “Oh Flower of Scotland” is sure to impress you!
My involvement with multiple cultures made me more compassionate and understanding physically and spiritually. The experience helped me become whole as a person and in my wholeness I was better able to contribute to my own society’s development.
In Dubai we are lucky to have easy access to multiple cultures. Food, alternate medicine, languages, religion, art, culture, music, film, theatre are but a little of the richness on offer. The invitation to delve into these things is not aimed at trying to take anything away from you. Rather, it’s an invitation to come and share what it has to give you. The holy Quran 49:13 says “…We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
In knowing one another we get to know our own selves both at an individual level and at a collective level. The differences between cultures and world views are not accidental, they are intentional and by intelligent design. They are not to be removed, isolated and blocked off, they are to be approached, studied and embraced. That is why for me, as an individual and a collective member of the Emirati community, multiplicity and multiculturalism do not dilute or destroy, they rather help to heal and restore.Have a rich and multicultural Friday everyone.