Open and Closed

When I was growing up, it was impressed upon me that getting along with people – and different kinds of people – was important. (Not saying there weren’t “wrong kinds” of other people – and goodness knows I got into trouble for not always being able to discern who they were – but they were presented as exceptions to a general rule.) I kept hearing about the importance of things like openness, hospitality, and meeting others where they are. That everyone needs to learn how to graciously be with others unlike oneself. And when seeking advice on how to deal with interpersonal clashes, it usually came down to learning more about the other person, considering where they were coming from, and compromise.

I’m not sure when things changed, but now it seems that the dominant discourse I encounter is about shutting out. Advice for dealing with interpersonal or social conflict seems centred on creating and maintaining better boundaries. Protect yourself from danger and annoyance. Find and stick to the people like you, and learn to cut out toxic people.

I have noticed this shift in many areas of life, from the personal (dating advice) to the social (designated safe spaces) to many countries’ immigration policies. But I particularly want to talk about it with regard to cross-cultural issues.

When I was younger, I was taught that they way to deal with culture-clash was getting to know others better. Especially if you were a foreigner in a place. Explore the other culture(s), do cultural exchanges, and try other-cultural things. See how humanity has more in common than not. This was given as the way to be good to others as well as to enrich yourself.

Now, the discourse around culture clash seems to be all about threat. Keep away from others unlike you, we’re told. Be afraid of cultural dilution and protect your traditions. Be aware of the boundaries and don’t trespass into others’ space. For the good of both yourselves and others, keep to the places and people and practices of your own culture.

Obviously there are problems with either extreme of too much openness or being too closed off. But right now, I feel we are tending too much towards closing off. There just seems to be a great sense of fearfulness and lurking danger, and the result of it is a polarizing, unforgiving atmosphere that leaves a lot of people alienated. And I’m certain I’m not the only person feeling a loss of human connection.