Why showing respect for diverse cultural beliefs improves the holiday experience
The American population used to be three-quarters white. Today, almost 30 percent of the U.S. population is comprised of people of color. Amid rapidly changing social dynamics, holidays have become an increasingly stressful period as the festivities of different cultures and religious beliefs clash. Instead of ruining the holiday experience over differences, it can be more fun for all to celebrate them.
The following three powerful trends in our society explain why diversity has become an important issue in all aspects of our culture.
- The global market
The strength of our economy lies in our ability to professionally interact with countries from other parts of the world. In order to remain competitive in the world market, it is vital for U.S. to not just design products but develop marketing strategies that meet the needs of a culturally diverse market. Such operations integrate diverse groups of people for planning and strategizing. It is important to note that today four out of every five new jobs are a result of foreign trade. AT&T is building facilities in Indonesia, Ford Motor Company caters to customers in Tokyo and IBM has offices in India.
To make such business deals profitable, a good business sense would involve the development of an understanding and appreciation of other cultures involved.
- Shifting demographics
The increasing trends in immigration and birth rates are primarily why the U.S. population has become drastically diverse. Currently in California, the most populous state, whites account for less than 50 percent of the population. Hispanics have emerged as the largest minority population, while Asians and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the region.
A significant impetus for these shifting demographics is immigration. Since 1965, the U.S. has welcomed 40 million immigrants, half of them Hispanics.
Unsurprisingly, racial intermarriages are also on the rise, as 15.5 percent of newlyweds come from different racial backgrounds.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest projections, by 2060, white Americans are predicted to go from making up 85 percent of the U.S. population to 45 percent.
- Changing concept of America
Society’s traditional approach to diversity has always been assimilation. The U.S. has often been termed the “melting pot” society. Newcomers were expected to adapt their “old world” values and culture to fit the values and lifestyles of the “new world.” In theory, the “melting pot” would result in one culture, language and lifestyle for everyone in this country.
Today, terms like “mosaic society” are replacing this concept, where individuals maintain their own cultural patterns, such as language, lifestyle and religious practices. Differences are valued and appreciated, as when countless colored stones join together to form a mosaic. With the wide variety of people living in U.S., it is difficult to identify a single distinctive American culture. It may be more appropriate to think of the U.S. as having a vast multi-culture.
‘The December Dilemma’
The U.S. is one of the most religiously diverse nations and one of the most religious devout of the developed countries in the world.
Stress levels usually go up around the winter holidays due to the added financial pressures and additional responsibilities at home, work and in the community. Educators and employers can also experience stress when addressing the holidays at a public school or workplace.
Recent times have seen controversy over perceptions that public schools either promote the religious aspects of Christmas too much or not enough. Examination of other cultural and religious holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, cans also cause outrage.
First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes pointed out that Americans often take for granted the fact that people with deep religious differences can live together. Yet many of the problems associated with religious intolerance are rooted in ignorance and fear. Therefore, Haynes suggests public schools take the lead in teaching students about cultural diversification, including religious differences, to initiate a better living standard of peace.
As the National Education Association’s Tim Walker stated, “The idea is to help students develop respect for the differences in religious holidays and festivals while also drawing connections on how they are similar.”
In a 1997, Society for Human Resource Management surveyed 750 human resource professionals. Out of those, 68 percent of respondents said they offer flexible schedules for religious observances. However, in case of other religious accommodations, they weren’t as progressive. Only 19 percent included religion in diversity training programs, 18 percent trained their managers in religious accommodations, 15 percent provided space or time for religious observance and 13 percent accommodated religious attire.
Diversity awareness and competence
The concept of understanding and appreciating diversity is based on the following:
- Awareness-Have a clear sense of one’s own culture and ethnocentricity. Recognize, accept and appreciate differences as diversity rather than an abnormality or inappropriateness
- Skills-Develop skills in cross-cultural communications, problem solving and conflict management, particularly in relation to individuals with diverse backgrounds
- Behavior-Assume and develop a mentoring relationship when interacting with people who may have different styles of learning and working. Take the initiative to inform others about cultural differences and diversity competence
The bottom line
The true spirit of the holidays remains in unified celebration, shared happiness and a humane understanding of diversity. Given the mental toll that many feel around this time of the year, stress only gets further fueled by such controversies. Both Haynes and Walker also point out that one way to relieve the pressure of December is to look beyond it, educating about various religious holidays at various times of the year, where appropriate. Schools, workplaces and other institutions can consolidate policies in advance to ensure a holiday season that is inclusive and educational.
Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health center. If you or a loved one is struggling with the holidays stress, contact our representative right away through our 24/7 helpline to learn about our programs for mental health and substance abuse.
Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group Writer