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#3: Cosmopolitanism

Living in the world...


cos•mo•pol•i•tan [koz-muh-pol-i-tn]
adjective: free from local, provincial, or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments; at home all over the world; belonging to all the world; not limited to just one part of the world.

On our last Saturday in Paris, I visited an outdoor market with a friend. Paris is designed and labeled as a spiral, in which “one” is in the core of the city, and then the numbers spiral out. We were in the nineteenth or twentieth section of the city, making us fairly far out from the city center. This was fine with me, as the closer one is to the center, the harder it is to find housing for a large group likes ours. Additionally, when the city was redesigned after the revolution, the housing was redesigned. Instead of social classes living a stratified life in one building, with the highest classes on the bottom and the poorest classes on the top, classes were now more divided, with the wealthy living in the center of the city and the poor moving to the outskirts. Therefore, our hostel in Paris was located in a large North African immigrant population.

Going to market on Saturday reminded me of a similar experience in Ethiopia, only more diverse. Men of Arab descent sold brightly-colored, cheaply-made clothing. Men from China sold African handmade gifts of the touristy type. A family of Middle-Eastern or North African descent sold crepes, fried dough, and sandwiches. Booths aimed at tourists and at locals flooded the parking lot. It was like a convention of everyone living in Paris who wasn’t originally French. When they realized I didn’t speak French, they were so kind, perhaps because they themselves were still learning the language. Instead, we gestured, and occasionally they would use their broken English to explain where they were from or to give us a good deal on a scarf or ring. Seeing a group so diverse that seemed to flow so well was a marvelous thing.

Cosmopolitanism, according to author and philosopher Wame Anthony Appiah, must balance two ideas. These are 1) we value other people, and 2) we value individuals and not just the larger group. This holds equally in tension the values for global interconnection as well as pride for individual cultures.

We live in a world in which different cultures collide daily. Europe, for example, operates in an almost borderless manner, so that countries within their treaty allow people to move around freely. With the spread of people come the questions of security, of tolerance, and of cultural purity. One wants to remain safe, one wants to ensure that neither they nor others are crushed due to differing opinions, and one wants to protect his culture from dying. How can we love others in a cosmopolitan world? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And how do we know what they would want us to do? Talk with them.

The market was a beautiful picture of cosmopolitanism because different cultures were coming together, primarily for business, but also to share joint cultures. The shopkeepers and shoppers were mainly immigrants, or at least looked like immigrants, and were probably taken back to their homelands on days like these. Most countries have open-air markets like this; my friend was reminded of her childhood in Africa when she saw the booths. The people know how to live together, share experiences, tolerate differing religions, and benefit the group as well as themselves. They seemed to know how to be sensitive about the other people, but also able and willing to step up and not worry too much about others, in order to make their own profit as well.

Likewise, cosmopolitanism requires sensitivity and boldness. We must be sensitive, not wrecking havoc on intercultural relationships by carelessly being “too American.” But if we are too careful, we will always accommodate and will therefore lose our cultural identity. We need to live with purpose in a cosmopolitan world, but also with sensitivity to those around us. And we need to live with the courage to converse, to not just assume, but to articulate our opinions and ask for those of others. We may not always agree, but we can agree to disagree.

Posted by klewis91 04:12

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