By Kalpna Singh-Chitnis
There has never been a time when a generation has not faced the challenges that prepare a society to bring transformations necessary to evolve and prosper. Our generation is no exception.
The advancement of science and technology has brought the world closer and allowed us to have dialogues we never had before. We have gained greater perspective on things by exchanging our ideas and connecting cultures. But, such advancements have also exposed us to our differences, conflicts, and threats new to our world.
We are done fighting our wars with stones and spears, artillery and nuclear weapons, to learn enough about the devastation a war can bring. We have understood the importance of equal rights for all men and women, regardless of their color, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
However, what we do not seem to realize, is that on one hand, we want to prevent wars, and on the other hand, we engage ourselves in fueling and funding the practices that lead us into another war. We are living in the twenty-first century, but still fighting on many social and religious issues with a medieval mindset. The resistance to change, and unwillingness to let go of our cherished ideas and privileges, have become a threat to our own consciousness and well being.
Most of us are comfortable with our traditional values and standards, when it comes to religion and faith, ethics and morality; and most of the wars we fight are based on the predetermined ideas of who we are, and what our racial, ethnic and religious identity is, which is often manipulated by politics and economy. But if we look closely, the majority of us are not Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Jews, because we adhere to our faiths by choice. Most of us are Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Jews, simply because we are born into families that have handed down to us a religion, we never had a chance to study or scrutinize, and find out, whether it is right for us or not. Sharing an understanding inspired by Osho here, that when it comes to choosing what we want to eat and wear, we eat the food that nourishes our body, and wear the clothes in a size that fits us. But, when it comes to understanding ourselves, we have accepted the ideas of who we are, handed down to us by others.
We do not have any control over where we are born, determining our ethnic, racial and national identity, which adds to the crisis like social prejudice, hatred, racial and cultural bias. At some point we all have felt helpless, as the acceptance or rejection of our existential identities, religion, faith, values and traditions are not easy choices to make.
Do writers and artists view their existential identities the same as others do? Or, are they different from others in this respect? What is more important for a writer, poet or artist in a time of a global crisis, social and political unrest, rooted in our existential identity controlled by the politics and economy of the nations? Do they have any obligation to relate to the issues that are not circumscribed to themselves only, but others also, for the greater good of their societies?
Writers and artists are not necessarily politicians or activists, but they are able to influence opinions; even of those, who are not used to thinking outside the box. Are we hearing their voices today? Or, are we not hearing them loud enough? Or, are we only hearing the silences of many of them? What stands in our way, making us step back from having the conversations we must have? Is that fear, reluctance, hopelessness or acceptance of the new normal in the world, or an accumulation of all? If so, how to motivate ourselves to act in the seemingly hopeless situations that surround us today, caused by wars, genocide, hunger, poverty, corruption, hatred and international terrorism? We do not necessarily need to call for a revolution to change things around us. In tough times, when everything seems to fail, we can always rely on our creative instincts to voice our concerns, using cultural diplomacy to open the doors that are nailed shut.
The bridges built by art, literature and music, do not require any visa or passport to cross over the messages that connect one human being with another. A voice from one side of the border can always be heard by someone on the other side of the border. The wind does not discriminate and delivers all messages, without any postal stamps or approval of the respective countries. Elements of nature have equal justifications for all things. A writer, poet or artist knows, how to tune to those elements and messages sent to them by the universe, and relay their own in turn. Even when our ideas are rejected, due to fear and ignorance, a dialogue is always better than having no dialogue at all. We require the courage to break free from anything that limits our thinking. And anything that prevents us from realizing our greatest potential must be re-examined, whether it arises from our political ideologies, cultures, or religious traditions.
Here, I’m inspired to share a quote of America’s Founding Father Thomas Jefferson in a letter written to James Madison from Paris on September 20th 1785.
“You see I am an enthusiast on the subject of the arts. But it is an enthusiasm of which I am not ashamed, as its object is to improve the taste of my countrymen, to increase their reputation, to reconcile to them the respect of the world, and procure them its praise.”
In light of this quote of Thomas Jefferson, I wonder, where we stand today, on the matters of reforming immigration laws, dealing with the refugee crisis, civil wars, gun control, social injustice, and lack of humane conditions in the parts of the world affected by wars, invasions, poverty and disease? We need Cultural Diplomacy more than ever before.