Shifting Fear to Appreciation: Understanding Other Cultures


France. Lebanon. Mali. Syria.

All have been in the news recently for shocking attacks against humanity. Sadly, the world is facing incredibly difficult crisis situations right now. In light of these recent events, as well as the ongoing refugee migration out of Syria, I’ve been thinking about culture and compassion. More specifically, every time I hear about another attack or the growing fear of refugees, I realize how little many of us know about other populations of people. Stereotypes abound, leading to misinformation and a lack of understanding. However, despite one’s language, religion or home country, we’re actually more alike than different. What can we do to lessen the fear and break down the barriers that separate us in order to learn from and appreciate those from other cultures?

A TED Talk by Ann Morgan struck a chord with me in light of my recent musings. Realizing that she’d read very few books by non-English speaking authors, Ann set out to read a translated book from every country in the world within one year. Her goal was to discover the world and learn about countries and cultures through literature. Watch Ann’s story to learn more about the challenge she set for herself:

Ann’s project got me thinking about the current state of the world. What if we could all find a way to immerse ourselves in different cultures (even if we’re not there physically) to become true global citizens who respect others, regardless of their background? We’d surely be more compassionate, and we’d probably learn a great deal.

For Ann, her collection of books from 196 countries gave her incredible insight into the lives of others. “It’s the story of the power books have to connect us across political, geographical, cultural, social, religious divides. It’s the tale of the potential human beings have to work together,” she said. “And, it’s testament to the extraordinary times we live in, where, thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever before for a stranger to share a story, a worldview, a book with someone she may never meet, on the other side of the planet.”

Being more open to and accepting of differences can have a significant impact on our personal and professional lives. But if you don’t want to read 196 books, how can you better understand a neighbor or coworker from a different country? Try talking over coffee or tea during a work break; share a favorite family recipe and ask about a favorite of his/her family; research special cultural holidays of that person and wish him/her well on that day; strike up a conversation about languages and learn a few words in his/her native tongue. There are so many ways to learn about a person, which, in turn, may even teach us more about ourselves.

How will you challenge yourself to become more understanding of other cultures? How can you help others to do the same? Let’s begin to transform fear, misunderstanding and hatred to love, compassion and friendship!


Editorial and Education Research Project Manager, Bon Education

Image credit: Gumpanat/

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