It was 1936. The stadium in Berlin exploded with an unprecedented silence before exploding into an eruption of joy. The man behind this was not a tiny individual who would later be called the Fuhrer. But the Afro-American athlete, Jesse Owens, who ran his way into the annals of sporting glory. His record set aside any claims that Hitler, who was also in the audience, hoped to create about his principles of Aryan supremacy in sports.
The fabulous sporting arena, the Olympiastadion, has seen all kinds of events in its fascinating history. It was only fitting that decades later, in 2011, it bore witness to a unique one. A tribute to a shared culture. Over 100 countries came together to pay respect to their local cultural heritage at the World Culture Festival. From the rare Swiss Alpine Horns to the rhythmic sounds of the Indian Naad Swaram; from a beautiful Japanese Lotus Dance to ballet and Bharatanatyam. It was not merely a spectacle but a coming together of people, cultures and shared identities.
World heritage day: An invitation
Each year comes a day when the focus is on heritage. World Heritage Day, celebrated on April 18, is also called the International Day For Monuments and Sites. In a world with rapid advancements in science and technology, the spotlight must be thrown on culture and heritage. And this year, amidst the global corona phenomenon, the spotlight is even more telling: exploring the theme of our shared cultures, shared heritage, shared responsibility.
This day serves as an invitation to open the dimension of shared cultures in our lives. How are we practicing the essence of a one world family? Can prejudices be cast aside to give room to peaceful co-existence? What can we do to further our shared responsibility – be it in preserving our local cultures, monuments, history, and legacy?
Two powerful perspectives truly embrace our shared heritage:
I. Broaden self-identification
“Walls must come down between cultures, and civilizations. We must realize we are a one world family. One divinity, one humanity, celebrating diversity, this is our sacred duty.”
– Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Gurudev urges people to broaden their self-identification: “The present crisis is basically one of identification: limited and fragmented identification leads to hatred, violence, and war. People usually identify themselves with their profession, religion, race, culture, nationality, language, region or sex. Many are prepared to go to any lengths to protect this identity… we need to bring about an understanding in all people that they are, firstly, part of the universal spirit, and, secondly, human beings.”
II. Cultivate multicultural education
“The only way to get rid of fanaticism in the world is through education that is broad-based, multi-cultural and multi-religious.”
– Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
One way to remember a shared legacy is to truly understand and celebrate diversity. Inculcating a pluralistic attitude, especially in children is one of the best ways we can practice our shared responsibility.
“Right education is that which creates a reverence for diversity in nature and a sense of belonging with the whole world,” says Gurudev. Opening up a child’s mind to respecting other religions, bringing up a child in a world that encourages human values like a sense of oneness with others, trust and compassion is a sustainable solution.
When children understand that human values exist in all the great traditions; when children glimpse the humanity of believers of other faiths; and when children know that truth is expressed outside their own religion, then narrow-mindedness, the root of terrorism, will not survive.
Finally, it’s the things we choose to believe, the stories we tell ourselves about each other. As Yuval Noah Harari, the noted historian of our times, says: “Good stories create a good world.” Stories of our unique local and shared cultures will water the family tree of our lifelong connection with our ancestors, each other and the future generations. This is our shared humanity, our legacy.
For only that which gets preserved lives on.
Excerpts of this piece were first published on The Art of Living website.