In October, I wrote about political divisiveness and its negative impact on our society. Today, I would like to explore one of the issues that I believe lies at the center of this problem—our failure to truly understand and respect the cultural differences among us. If we, the younger generation, are to bridge this gap, it is important that we acknowledge our differences and strive to gain a better understanding of the similarities that bind us together. While this may seem like a lofty goal, there are small steps that each of us can take to expand our horizons and open our eyes to other cultures and ways of life.
When people think of learning about other cultures, they often think of traveling to far-off, exotic, lands. While this type of travel is wonderful, it can be expensive and time consuming. As high school students, we do not have the freedom, time or expense accounts to travel in this way. So how do we go about exploring other cultures and trying to understand people who are different than us?
We are extremely lucky to live in the town of Port Washington. One of the hallmarks of our town is its diversity. There is diversity of race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity and sexual orientation in Port. Experiencing this diversity is as simple as taking a stroll down Main Street, sitting on a bench at the Town Dock or attending a Vikings’ game. While it is easy to seek out people who are similar to you, it is important to make an effort to interact with those people who are not. It is through these experiences that you will begin to understand that the similarities that you share are much greater (and more important) than the superficial differences that separate you. While in concept this seems like a great idea, how do you actually do it in real life? Strike up a conversation about the weather or the event that you are attending. Ask them how long they have lived in Port and what attracted them to the town. Inquire about their favorite places to eat. The point is that once you break ice and begin the conversation, other information will quickly follow. And once you understand a little more about them, it will make it a little easier for you to empathize and understand their point of view.
Learning about others and their cultures makes you feel more connected as a human being. It is easy to forget that we are all human and have the same basic wants and needs. By connecting with people that are different than we are, we grow closer and begin to break down the cultural divide. It is through this process that we open up the lines of communication for effective compromise and positive change.
—Zack Siegel is a student columnist from Port Washington