A Personal Diary of My Journey through the SIETAR Switzerland 2020 Congress “The Future of Inclusion” : The Light in the Crack*

by Peter Mousaferiadis, CEO Cultural Infusion

During his three decades working as a creative director, conductor, composer and producer, Peter Mousaferiadis has come to understand profoundly the power of culture and the arts. Above all, he has grasped that we people don’t do enough to draw upon humanity’s greatest asset, cultural diversity. Perhaps nothing is more obvious that humanity’s diversity—and nothing more under-utilised. In 2002, Peter founded Cultural Infusion as a response to the impact of globalisation on society, as a means to address our lack of understanding of the Other and as a way of reducing ethnic and race-based discrimination.

Peter’s reflections were inspired by the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who lived 2400 years ago and in whose shadow he says he stands. Diogenes lived the life of a “kin”, the ancient Greek word for “dog” from which “cynicism” is derived; hence, Diogenes the Cynic. He was also the first human being to proclaim, “I am a citizen of the world”.

Captured in a diary form, here are some extracts from Peter Mousaferiadis’ closing keynote address.

I will share a story with you about my 93-year-old father. Years ago, he asked me in Greek:

“Pethi MOU…My Son! I have never quite understood. What is it that you actually do? One day you are conducting, the next you are writing music, directing and producing international events, such as the Parliament of World Religions, for our Australian Government and the United Nations. I hear something about digital products and a big data initiative you’re working on which focuses on measuring diversity. TELL ME! What is this job?”

That was a light bulb moment, because I realised that what I did could not be defined by the actions I was involved with, but by what drove me: The WHY. Everything I did drew upon culture and the arts to build intercultural understanding as a core value and key competency of global citizenship.

Dr Aminata Cairo’s opening keynote speech: ‘All stories are valid’

During the 2020 Congress, we heard all kinds of stories, from ones about the times when rocks were first used as tools by humanity to ones about children who recently crossed dangerous seas and today long for a sense of belonging—a home.

In her impassioned opening, Dr Cairo stated the need to treat all stories as valid. She told us that diversity is not just about stories and their differences, but also the difference in their inherent quality. Collectively, we have a wealth of stories that we can share. How do we treat each of these stories as equal, and how do we deal with the tension at the point of convergence?

I am forever pondering this point of convergence. The Future of Inclusion is going to require global efforts to revise our societies so they can become nimble and adapt to the ever-changing world we will continue to find ourselves in. Every one of us here has a role to play. Throughout the Congress, presenters stated that there are endless benefits to embracing the Other.

This poster was created by students from the Kindergarten of Andravida, Greece and submitted in a local Early Childhood Art Exhibition titled “Border Crossing to Europe”. The Exhibition was run by the Forum on Intercultural Dialogue and Leaning (University of Patras) and OMEP Patras in 2017.

Unpacking Migration: Recognition of the benefits of individuals on the move in our societies – Overcoming barriers towards inclusion

As humans, we need to express compassion and forgiveness, and where possible engage in meaningful conversation. Compassion was a recurring theme of the congress.

Gianni d’Amato, Eugenia Arvanitis and Eric Davoine highlighted how refugees who are integrated into society create benefits for all. Refugees have always been an asset, yet they are forever experiencing obstacles. Research highlights that in areas, like large cities, that are already diverse, migrants are more likely to be accepted and integrated, whereas areas with the lowest diversity show the highest negativity towards refugees.

The importance of learning the language of the host country—a good command, not just a basic knowledge—was highlighted as an essential element of integration for migrants.

English was a symbolic asset for my mother. At 17, she arrived in Australia from Greece. Within two weeks, she secured employment. Her friend told her, if anyone asks you how you are, say 18”. The supervisor asked her, “How old are you?” “18,” she replied. Two and half years later, he was still asking her the same question almost every day and receiving the same reply.

The supervisor was not asking my mother HOW OLD ARE YOU? but HOW ARE YOU?

A congress highlight was visual harvester Raquel Benmergui, who so eloquently captured the essence of two key sessions and in particular questions that we all seek answers to in “Learning to Live Together on an Equal Footing in Culturally Diverse Societies” and in the World Café dedicated to “Building a Culture of Peace for Inclusive and Pacific Societies: A collective approach for a sustainable world after Covid”

“Learning to Live Together on an Equal Footing in Culturally Diverse Societies,” facilitated by Tom Waterhouse: There was an emphasis in this session on the role that education plays in bringing about openness and reducing racism. In that context, Miguel Carvalho Da Silva stated that education allows us to deconstruct the instrumentalisation of fear.

Alaeddine Touhami emphasized that we need to explore the common ground that binds us and that we need cultures of peace, along with the economy of peace and the infrastructure of peace. These must be extended to every aspect of society.

We also heard the argument of equality versus equity and a recommendation that we look for inspiration to societies such as Canada, with its policy of reasonable accommodation of cultural practices.

Early signs of cultural accommodation:

Bilingual Coin: The Lahore Museum hosts an impressive collection of 48,000 coins. The square coin pictured above is said to be the very first bilingual coin, depicting King Demetrius the Third. On one side of the coin, the text is in Greek; on the other side, it is repeated in Kharoshthi, an extinct script used in Ancient Gandhara to write in Prakrit, a language related to Sanskrit.

When I first saw this bilingual coin, I was awestruck at what it said about a society of 2000 years ago that did not approach everything from an ethnocentric perspective and valued inclusiveness.

Common places of worships:

Here is an image of my visit to Taxila, where humans of all faiths and religions lived in peace and mutual respect. Students travelled huge distances to study there. Around 180 BC, King Demetrius the First redesigned Taxila to become an inclusive place for all.

On the left are the remains of a Buddhist temple. Did this mean all Greeks, Indians and Persians attended this place of worship simultaneously? Yes! This was a peaceful, interreligious and multicultural society until the White Huns wiped Taxila away.

 

What did that nexus and the creative process look like during this period?

“Including difference: The future of creativity”

Dr Ingunn Nessand Dr Vlad Glaveanu’s outstanding presentation dovetailed into the Future of Inclusion theme. Vlad highlighted how difference is essential to creativity, a process that thrives on variation and creates spaces and environments which increase inclusion.

If we want to develop inclusive societies then we don’t need to look too far. We look to the past and the stories the past can share with us.

“Building a Culture of Peace for Inclusive and Pacific Societies: Collective approach for a sustainable world after Covid”

The World Café session was facilitated by Vincent Merk, Yassine Nasser and Gundhild Hoenig, who inspired us to collaborate and discuss ideas in order to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #16, which is promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Yassine Nasser drew upon his heritage and the concept of UBUNTU and how it might be able to frame our approach to peace. Congress participant Wanah Immanuel Bumakor told us that conflict is natural and to be open to conflict because it provides the opportunity to collaborate. When we listen to each other’s realities, conflict becomes transformational.

Wellbeing is often viewed in health terms only. However, Vincent Merk portrayed a much broader definition of the concept, explaining that it should be viewed as a process by which the individual and society can learn to be resistant to stress and deal with an increasingly complex and uncertain environment.

The Greek Word for Peace

In my opinion, the notion of peace in Greek Antiquity (prior to 300 BC) underwent a major transformation, changing from a more tangible concept of measurement to an abstraction. I am trying to highlight that we need to think of the following:

  • The meanings that cultures ascribe to language strongly depend on linguistic, social, historical and cultural contexts.
  • The meaning of words changes constantly, and words have different meanings depending on their contexts.
  • Let’s not ignore history.

The future also lies in our past.

Ειρήνη: The Greek word for peace is derived from Ειρω (eiro) which means:

  • To string together all the essential components into one, achieving a state of equilibrium, and/or
  • To bring everything together which has been separated or
  • God’s gift of wholeness (in some contexts)

The word “wreath” in ancient Greek is Ειρεσιωνη (eiresioni) , a derivative of the Greek word ‘eiro’ and σιώ (σιο) translating to ‘for God’. The εἰρεσιώνη (wreath) was often made from an olive branch.

 The wreath is a symbol of peace adopted by major agencies, such as the UN, for their logo. The Greeks knew peace required many different aspects of working in harmony.

According to the Global Peace Index, peace is the attitudes, institutions and structures that help encourage and sustain a peaceful society.

Developed by philanthropist Stephen Killelea,  the Eight Pillars of Peace is a holistic framework describing the factors that make a country more peaceful. Peace does not come naturally. If one pillar becomes weak, the equilibrium is disturbed. Peace can often be described as the absence of violence or conflict.

 

Participants’ discussions during SIETAR Switzerland’s World Café resulted in an impressive harvesting document. Questions such as “What is the leverage of actions to transform or prevent conflict in order to maintain an inclusive climate?” found a profound echo with participants. For instance:

“Remember that most conflicts are born from misunderstanding, not a desire for conflict, and that most people want to find a resolution”.

“How we portray and frame conflict is key – we can use conflict to bring out the best in people and organizations”.

“Education is key in preventing conflicts”.

“It is during conflict situations that creative solutions can be found, if intercultural communication skills facilitate the process”.

“It is essential to understand the real sources of conflict”.

Google as a Social Barometer

One of the ways to learn about how important concepts are to is to look for the number of times a key term appears on the web. The number of pages where the term “Cultural Conflict” appears is far greater than the presence of “Interculturalism,” the space we all work in.

You can see two major spikes in cultural inclusion. Note the period when these spikes took place: after the first wave in Europe when Corona virus cases had subsided and before the exponential increase.

What do you think is the reason for this?

Global Peace Index

In 2019, the cost of violence equated more than 10.6% of the world’s GDP. This represents a mind-blowing and staggering figure of 14.5 trillion dollars or $1,909 per person.

According to UNESCO, 75% of all conflict in the world has a cultural dimension. Bridging the gap between cultures is urgent and necessary for peace, stability and development. It just makes sense to me that we need to be investing more in this area.

Pillars of Sustainability

We operate at the point where these pillars intersect

I have illustrated how culture should be given equal footing in public planning with economic, environmental and social planning.

In his 2001 book, The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability, John Hawkes says that culture is overarching and underpinning. In Unpacking Migration (part 2) we heard from various non-government organisations and their efforts to go beyond integrating to including migrants into society, accepting them for who they are.

Learning to live together on an equal footing in culturally diverse societies – finding mutual paths

This image by Monika Ernst captures the theme of the conference, “The Future of Inclusion,” calling upon us to act. It requires us to take on other perspectives and include them in the building of bridges.

 

 

Final Thought – 13.9 Billion Years Old

John Mather and George Smoot were awarded the Nobel Prize for pinpointing exactly when the Big Bang took place.

But what did the Big Bang sound like? John Cramer, an acoustical physicist, was able to work out what it sounded like. I am sorry to disappoint you by revealing that it was not the mother of all explosions but rather a hum. Many cultures, including the first-nation cultures of Australia, describe the Hum at the very beginning of time, the source from which all things emerge.

But George Simons, who creates games that bring people together, would see in this image the opportunity to ask, “What crack was it that gave the universe its light?” What created this remote chance that allowed light to come through a crack and for us to be here today?

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