Human dignity is the ideal state of human existence.
While human beings live in a very diverse culture, there is certain quality of humanity that is shared within all cultures. The keyword of human dignity is respect. Human dignity is anything that make a person respectable and respectful. Cultural differences develop diverse values that guide each cultural group to live their particular lives.
These particular values sometimes is in conflict with other culture’s values. The conflict can occur at the level of understanding, power relation, and policy implementation. The miss-match of values can occur in the context of psychology, historical sociology, and cultural artifacts, such as architecture.
Intercultural encounters take place in a complex web of global power relations. Globally, the freedom and the ability to travel, as well as the reasons for travelling, vary greatly. The vast majority of the citizens of Western countries, for example, are able to relatively easily travel abroad for vacation, work, or studies. Only a tiny elite is able to do the same thing in most non-Western countries.
At the same time, for a Westerner the probability of finding himself/herself forced to search shelter abroad as a refugee, is extremely low. Considering the extreme variety of circumstances, intercultural encounters must be imagined as plural, and almost always imbued with unequal power relations.
In this global web of power, cultural difference is often given meaning by referring to an implicit hierarchy. This hierarchy takes many forms emphasizing a dominant way of thinking that undermines the variety of the vast existing cultural groups which could impose a threat to human dignity.
Progressiveness, democracy, modernity, and rationality, are perceived as characteristics of “Western” societies, while “Eastern” societies are either praised for their “exotic” traditions and their spirituality, or considered as backward, irrational, or even violent. While, as individuals, most of us certainly do not fully subscribe to these ideas, we cannot completely extract ourselves from the dominant discourses.
However, this does not mean that every encounter is, from the start, doomed to reflect and enforce existing inequalities and stereotypes. Human encounters are complex, open-ended events, that always have the possibility to subvert the existing dominant discourses.
What does it take to make this happen? What are the alternatives to the present dominant discourses, i.e. discourses that can be called the post colonial era? How could there exist a particular group that are deprived of their own dignity? What kind of experiences and interactions might enable people to develop a concept of human dignity, and start to respect the dignity of every human being?
And how can encounters of this new, emancipatory kind be promoted?
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