People can participate in a number of ways. Participation can be encouraged. Society should enable as many people as possible to participate, to feel that they are part of the joy of communal existence. This poses a challenge, not just to us decision makers, but also to the professional world, civil society, schools and day centers -- a challenge for many communities. I would like to analyze the concepts of “community” and “communality.” A community is a functional entity whose members have commonly understood values and objectives and which works together to achieve those objectives.
Communality, on the other hand, refers to the features of a community which make it a pleasurable experience to belong to and function within.
Participation and social inclusion are the result of communities and communality, and of the experience of having an impact. They are a feeling of involvement. Within successful participation, people feel a right to their identity and feel their own worth, as part of a family, say, or some other form of community.
Participation is an established tool of political speech. It is also part of the active vocabulary of youth policy. There is an emphasis on participation in the fight against social exclusion and in motivating young people to be fully integrated both with their immediate surroundings and with society as a whole. In the most recent child and youth policy programs, participation has been one of the three key concepts. In terms of policy, this means helping children and young people grow to become active citizens with a sense of shared responsibility. The two other areas of focus in the programs are non-discrimination and the management of everyday life. It is part of human development to grow into active responsible citizenship, including global citizenship.
We learn to understand society
We realize that people have free will, the freedom to choose and responsibility for the choices that they make. We learn to create a personal code of ethics as a basis for the choices we make. We learn about morals -- about what is right and wrong. We are aware of the importance of human rights, and we try to build a fairer, more equal world, and work for a sustainable future.
Everyone should have the opportunity to come to understand our global society and participate in it fully, as critically aware citizens and as citizens of the world. Our values and the attitudes based on them have a major role to play in allowing people to function as active citizens of the world. Taking responsibility for oneself, for others and for our planet are vital for human existence.
Caring is part of that responsibility. This is because becoming responsible does not happen in a vacuum: it requires safe and secure contact with other people and caring support and guidance from them.
Globalization has brought with it a much greater need for intercultural understanding in the areas of education and training, in professional life and in private life.
You cannot learn to be an active citizen just by reading school books: you learn by living and functioning socially in today’s ever more multicultural society.
Encountering ethnic and cultural diversity is no longer the experience of just a few. It has become an everyday realty for many more people worldwide.
Interactive skills and conflict resolution must become part of everyone’s civil preparedness. The desire to participate and act only becomes greater through personal involvement.
When they work best, multiculturalism and an increasing number of international contacts -- including those via conventional media and social media -- are an opportunity for learning and living together.
However, they can also result in misunderstanding and conflict. Intercultural competence cannot be taken for granted, but must be fostered.
Intercultural competence is also closely associated with the notion of cultural literacy. Cultural literacy is the ability to discover, understand and read signals across different cultures. It is the ability to evaluate, compare and “uncover” other cultures.
Cultural literacy helps people act sensitively in a world of difference. An awareness and understanding of one’s own culture is one of the biggest challenges to improving cultural literacy, because we use it as a point of reference for comparing the cultures of others.
I would say that, to survive in our global, multicultural society, cultural literacy will soon be as crucial as any other form of literacy.
Dialogue is important
Dialogue is robust communication, the aim of which is to reach common understanding. Dialogue is a process that allows us gradually to become conscious of our own way of thinking and that of others. It creates an atmosphere in which mutual understanding can be achieved, and in which new, untrodden paths can be discovered. The same stones that people have used to build walls can also be used to build bridges -- between people and between nations. Communication is a way for people to get close to one another and to build common understanding, a way to build bridges between the various parts of our diverse world. Even small steps can be hugely important in the attempt to promote a culture of peaceful human coexistence and success in living together.
*Paavo Arhinmäki is the minister of sports and culture in Finland. This is a speech he delivered at a conference titled “The Culture of Coexistence: The Art of Living Together” sponsored by the Finland Dialog Association.