Sunday, July 12

Four educational values towards acceptance of multiculturalism


IF multiculturalism is blamed for conflicts between societies that live side by side in a nation or the world, then such a perspective is the antithesis to what nature has offered to mankind from time immemorial. Life exists in nature because of the reactions between two or more different chemical properties. Differences cause life to happen. Sameness equals inertness and produces nothing meaningful.

The key to resolving conflict between races and people of different faiths is, and always has been, about rethinking the objectives of education in our modern life. Modern education in many countries places an overarching importance on the material against the spiritual. The spiritual is wrongly interpreted as the subject of religious studies. Religion has become a racial, social, and political identity-construct, and is devoid of meaning in the other ‘secular’ subjects, which then leads to a life of professions and work chasing an illusion of the ‘good’ life.

Our education has no purpose except to produce a ‘slave’ mindset to industry, politics, and even to social and religious institutions that reject living with ‘differences’ of multiculturalism. Education must move towards teaching the idea of differences complementing a meaningful existence. This is key to harmonising between people, economies, and life challenges. This essay focuses on four important ingredients of accepting differences and how they can be interpreted in modern education; living with a ‘wilful-ignorance’, an ability to step outside the identity-self, acknowledging the dignity of the other, and rebuilding the love-empathy construct.

How, then, can multiculturalism be a problem? It is a problem when our education system is centred on producing a workforce only. It is a problem when our universities do things for their own sakes within their own kingdom of bureaucracy. It is a problem when our sermons from religious institutions understand religion as a ritual and an identifiable form, but know nothing about the spiritual essence of universal goodness, acceptance, and understanding.

For our multiculturalism to work as a unified team, our formal, informal, and professional education must achieve four values of worth; living with a ‘wilful-ignorance’, an ability to step outside the identity-self, acknowledging the dignity of the ‘other’, and rebuilding the love-empathy construct.

First on my list is the idea of ‘wilful-ignorance’. Wilful-ignorance is the self-admission that we do not know anything much and that whatever we do know is simply a drop in the ocean. Why is this value important? What happens when we think we know everything about another race, religion, or people? We tend to judge within our own narrow understanding of our own race, religion, and cultural framework. The reality is that we’ve never had friends of other races nor ever read anything of the other’s holy books. Now, how is that our present education system in secular and religious aspects allows us to think we know so much?

Eckhart Tolle gave a powerful speech called ‘The Power of Not Knowing’. He basically said that conflicts and anxiety arise simply because we think we know when we actually do not know. Anxiety is about thinking that we know the future. Conflict is about thinking we know completely the other party or person. Dr Karen Armstrong once said that man can only know God through words and his own limited constructs of His attributes. The fact is, she implies, we do not really know exactly what God is. And yet, we squabble about our ‘knowing’, which is laughable because what we know is simply a drop in the ocean.

We should, however celebrate and unite in our ‘IGNORANCE’ of God and many things about ourselves, our friends, and neighbours, and those people around us. Ignorance is the key to total non-judgment. How did our education system teach us that we know everything? We seem to be asked to download information of history or engineering. We hardly ‘know’ anything in fact because we are not taught to be critical.

The second most important value to inculcate is the idea that our ‘self’ is a construct of many social selves and that we must be able to escape from it from time to time. As we traverse through life, we form many constructs of our self. We can have a construct based on race, religion, profession, marital status, parental status, and many, many more. There are probably 30 constructs travelling in our own self every day. Conflicts arise when we have to constantly defend these constructs every time we seem to be attacked.

Actually, a problem or concern arises and we fall back mindlessly on our own constructs and start defending without knowing head or tail of what the issues are. The enlightened personality is one who can escape from these constructs and fall back into a ‘construct-less’ state. The ‘construct-less’ state of self in a person naturally exists in two situations only; during infancy and nearing death. In infancy, the child has no ego to defend or uphold and during the vegetative state before death, there is no construct that can be conscious of.

We should learn to be ‘construct-less’ at will, any time of our choosing. The greatest warrior is not one who can conquer the enemy but the great warrior is the one who can conquer his own self. When an issue arises, we can escape from being a racist or a bigot by being in a construct-less state and thus avoid the useless arguments and debates.

Ajahm Brahm was my teacher of this next value: to acknowledge and accord dignity to others. The other teacher is from the movie ‘Blast from the Past’. Ajahm taught by asking who is the most important person? The answer was … the one in front of you. Whoever is in front of you at any one time and throughout your life, would be the person most important to you. This action accords a sense of dignity and importance to ‘others’.

In the movie ‘Blast from the Past’ one of the characters had a revelation when he said, “I thought a gentleman was someone with refined clothing and with an air of polished arrogance, but actually a gentleman is a person who makes others around him or her feel at ease and comfortable.” Our education system never teaches this value as a universal phenomenon. We are taught to respect elders, prime ministers, Sultans, and the like. But actually we must be taught to treat all human beings with dignity regardless of race, religious conviction, or station in life.

Dr Maszlee Malik is my reference for this last value: love and empathy. This value is the highest one of all the four values discussed and it should be the by-product of all the other three attitudes and actions. To love another is an expression of care of the highest kind. To empathise the feeling and situation of others exist only in humans and not in any other living organism known presently. Only man can feel what others go through without actually going through the same experience.

If we can relearn to project into ourselves other people’s anxiety and concerns about social and political conflicts, then no extremist thought and slogans can prevent our mutual cooperation and understanding. Once love and empathy are in place, we, as a people in a multicultural construct, can begin to rebuild this country despite the plays and sandiwara of politicians with vested interests.

In conclusion, regardless of our faiths and identity-religions, if we hold to the four values of wilful ignorance, wilful construct-less state, wilful accordance of dignity to others and nurturing love-empathy, we would have the formula for greatness in peace, greatness in prosperity and greatness in spiritual bliss.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]