When I was a student in the social sciences at the University of Oslo in the early 1970s, it was required that we read anthropology professor Arne Martin Klausen’s book ‘Kultur: Variasjon og sammenheng’ (Oslo: Gyldendal 1970), which in English would translate to something like, ‘Culture: Variations and commonalities’. But we read it in Norwegian, of course, unlike what would be common today when everyone has become so Anglo-phony that we might even choose a book in English although we know the book is available in our mother tongue, be it Norwegian, Urdu or another language.

Let me start my story today by saying that we human beings are all much more similar and equal than different and unequal. True, not all, but I talk about the average and the majority. To make it simple, at least 60 percent, maybe 80-90 percent, can be included in this generalisation. But then there are some others on the outskirts, the very poor, disadvantaged and marginalised at the bottom of societies, especially in the poorest countries of the world, but even in the rich countries, live different lives than the mainstream. And there are a few rich at the top of the world, including some who become rich and famous in their lifetime; they too live entirely different lives than the rest of us. I feel sorry not only for the poorest of the poor but also for the richest of the rich, although slightly less for the latter.

The majority of people in the world have become more international and global over recent decades. We have similar dreams, wishes, hopes, and so on, and often, we spend a lot of our time doing similar things, yes, the basic things of course, that all human beings do and are concerned about: food, shelter, security, receiving and giving love, being concerned and worried about our nearest, thinking about income, health, existential issues, faith and religion, moral issues, where the world is going and if there is anything we can do about it.

All these things are global, universal, and common to all human beings at all times, everywhere, irrespective of all the real differences we also have – and all those that we make up and think we have. The latter we may do out of ignorance, assumption and misunderstanding, which is human to do so that it can be excused and explained. Or, we may do wrong things deliberately for own gain, and that is (mostly) inexcusable, although it can be explained.

We, people, are all the same, and our thoughts and our lives and many activities more alike than we think – yes, indeed now when we are on a mobile phone, on Internet, and in front of the TV so much of the time. Still, much is also different, and thanks to God for that! If not, the world would have been a much duller place. Diversity is mostly in the small things, the details rather than the big things. In future, it will be essential to borrow and learn more from each other; we must become more open and positive to each other, not arrogant, sceptic and worried. Exchange of knowledge and values will in future be ‘big business’ – because I believe we will be keen on learning more and more profound about people we only see but do not know, and it will be suitable for the private and public sectors, and civil society.

All this does not mean that we as human beings will change totally or even very much; it just means that we will be able to add or detract, dimensions to who we are. On the fringes, we will be more diverse, yes, even change some of our cultural backbones because we see that values and beliefs from others were as good or better. Besides, we will also more and more live with and marry across cultural borders.

Let me underline that I don’t think that we should change many of our basic ways – even if we migrate, or marry across cultural or other borders. In the latter case, we should adjust so that we in everyday life may fit in and conform. It is important to feel integrated and part of the land, city and community where we live. But it is also important to keep to one’s kind, also to feel and live with those who are physically thousands of miles away in the hometown where the family grew up. That is to be true and honest. To throw everything old overboard is not right – but to be open to new ideas and values, that is right. And for that matter, it is important to share thoughts and values with loved ones from the hometown or village so that they can also know who we still are, and that we are part of them still. It may come as a surprise that those living in traditional towns may have thought more about diversity and change, and what should be kept constant, than many ‘modern’ travellers have, but not always.

A few days ago, a good friend from Gujrat, now lives in Islamabad and have made a few trips abroad, too, told me that his brother at home was worried about the ‘modern man in the big city’. He thought he had lost some of his roots and values, maybe some of his faith – although as the eldest son he had last year accompanied his mother for Umrah in Saudi Arabia. Was the brother right to question his city-brother’s life? Yes, I think so. But then he should also be willing to answer for his own life. Often, criticism is a concern, and it is lack of information. If we communicate more, and both sides are open to listen and tell, then much misunderstanding can be sorted out. But we should add, too, that it is neither possible, not even good to agree on all issues. We have not all the same experience and knowledge, the same capacity and ambition. The old saying about London may have handy wisdom, notably that one should live and let live. The world city has been a melting pot for generations, with some three-quarters always being from somewhere else, and still people get along fairly well, it seems, it has its character and soul, and its diversity, commonality, sub-cultures, groups, nationalities, and so on – and many don’t only belong to one group, but several at the same time.

When I at the beginning of today’s article said that I, as a student, read Arne Martin Klausen’s book about culture in Norwegian, not in English, I believe that was good. But then, later, I also think we should read books in English or other languages, written by other experts than those from one’s neighbourhood. In my youth in Norway, we were not enough concerned about the outside world. We often thought we were better than others in so many ways, especially in politics and the way the welfare state was organised. Yes, we were somehow even told that our religion, the Protestant-Lutheran branch of Christianity – which was a state religion that time, although there was religious freedom – was better than other religions. I have indeed learnt a lot in later life, and my respect for people throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, where I have spent half of my adult life, has only grown, increased and deepened. No, I don’t say Norwegians are bad, and in a way, I don’t even think I have become less Norwegian based on my international studies, research, and working and living abroad. I’d rather say that I have added to, and deleted from, the backbone of my original culture, as I suggested above in this article that we must often try to do.

Today is the National Day of Norway, referred to as ‘17. mai’ in Norwegian, yes, written that way. May I say to all of you five million inhabitants of that land, ‘gratulerer med dagen’ – either you were born there as an indigenous, blue-eyed and blond Norwegian, as a Sami from the ethnic minority of the original people of the land, as a foreign worker from Sweden, Poland, Denmark or elsewhere, as a refugee or forced migrant from Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, or an immigrant from Pakistan, a family member who has joined, or anyone else of the 6-700,000 people who have travelled to Norway from elsewhere to seek a better life near the North Pole.

May God bless you all irrespective of religion, creed or cradle, skills or degrees, homeland or aspirations, or what you think of me as indigenous Norwegian, and I am not faultless, as you know. Thank you for having come to ‘Little Norway’, which is a great land, too. I hope you and your children will live in harmony with the Norwegians and other foreigners. Let me add, also, thank you to those who were in the land before you, indeed those who were welcoming you so that you can hand in hand make the land you dream of, to be good for all people who live there.

 

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.

atlehetland@yahoo.com