By Kelsey Holmes, Greenheart Club Program Assistant
Cultural exchange and appreciation are the core values of Greenheart Club. Learning to understand a culture that is different than your own is so important in becoming a global citizen and leader. Through our participants, we’ve heard so many wonderful stories of people of different backgrounds coming together to exchange ideas through service.
It is important to understand, however, that there is a difference between appreciation and appropriation. Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally. Appropriation on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest. Appropriation could mean of purchasing a piece of jewelry or clothing that may have important cultural significance to that culture, but simply using it as a fashion statement. It could be taking a photo of a ritual ceremony simply for the sake of getting as many likes on Facebook as possible. Regardless, taking a part of another culture without understanding what it truly means can be harmful not only to those whose culture you are using but also to those with whom you share it.
So, how can you explore and take part in a culture without exploiting it for your own use? Here are a few great ways!
- Examine your own culture. Through self-reflection, you will be better able to understand differences and determine what is important in cultures across the world. If you realize that a specific aspect of your own cultural background is central to your identity, and it would offend you if someone were to use it without understanding fully what it means, consider that people all over the world, in cultures other than your own, may feel exactly the same way.
- Think about: Would I be offended if someone wore an important religious symbol from my culture without understanding what it truly means?
- Listen first. One of the best ways to understand and appreciate another culture is by listening to those who are a part of the fabric of that society. Listen to their stories, understand the implications behind the aspects of their culture that you are interested in, and use that understanding to broaden your worldview.
- Think about: I recently purchased a beautiful piece of handmade jewelry. Did I listen to the artist who created the piece to learn more about his or her background, what their work means to them, and how it fits into the culture of that place? If not, I may be appropriating instead of appreciating.
- Consider context. What does a certain symbol mean to a particular culture? When and where is it appropriate to use it? Understanding what the various aspects of a culture are and what they mean are so important. If you truly have an interest in a person’s life, more than likely, they will be happy to share with you the things that matter to them.
- Think about: Did I just take a piece of someone’s culture to use for my own benefit, without knowing the significance behind it? Did I ask about the origins of the custom, item, or symbol? This is so important in understanding and appreciating a culture.
- Share your own culture. The most important part of cultural exchange – and what best distinguishes it from appropriation is that exchange is mutual. Through appreciation and exchange, you are able to share something about yourself, learn something about someone else, and partake in a mutual understanding of one another’s background and culture.
- Think about: Am I equally interested in sharing a piece of my own language, food, customs, and traditions? Chances are, this person is just as excited to learn about my culture as I am about theirs. What an incredible part of cultural exchange and appreciation!
Still unsure? Use the infographic below to check yourself and make sure that you are respecting and appreciating other cultures in an appropriate way!
At Greenheart Club, our participants are actively engaged in mutual exchange and cultural appreciation. What are some ways that you show your appreciation of other cultures?