The following exposé is largely based on the following I-We-They Principle, which refers to the perception of oneself, one’s own cultural group as well as that of other cultural groups:
-“Iam complex, three dimensional and flexible – able to operate with a full range of behaviour according to the context
-WEare less complex, two dimensional – operating within a narrower range of predictable behaviours
-THEYare simple, one dimensional – operating within clearly identifiable and narrow behaviours.”
(International Management Training Package, World Work Ltd, London)
Perceived distance and complexity condition our thinking and feeling about people from other cultures. Greater distance, lesser complexity and negative judgement correspond and smaller distance, greater complexity and positive judgements also go hand in hand. In the above summary of the I-We-They principle in three categories the We refers to the cultural group of the I, while They corresponds to members of other cultural groups with differing value preferences from oneself and one’s own cultural group.
The term foreigner already implies a prejudice, a clear-cut categorization and antagonization of people from different parts of the world. The use of the term “people from other countries” reduces the distance, appreciates their being humans by calling them people. They are put on an equal footing with natives who are also people, from diverse places as well. The ensuing reduction of distance increases their complexity and humanity, while the term foreigner puts them at a greater distance while it reduces their complexity. The increase of distance reduces their complexity and their humanity with its feelings, emotions, thought, hopes, loves, fears and sorrows. If we strip them of those essential human qualities they appear simple, outsiders and wrong with regard to our map of the world with its differing values, beliefs, assumptions and behaviours. We quickly put an oversimplified label on them to make them more easily manageable in our perception and in actual relationships. We have the right to be here, our norms are accepted, validated, daily reinforced and enforceable. They are simple, wrong and can only hope to be tolerated as marginals, who do not have the same legitimacy, no right to be here, except for what they contribute perhaps as foreign workers. This perception is intensified when we not only reduce their complexity, but when they additionally come with weak educational backgrounds not infrequently close to analphabetism, not knowing the local language and therefore being defenseless. If they additionally come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and without urban sophistication it increases their simplicity. So we strip them of their complex humanity, put a label of tolerated simplicity on them and treat them as foreigners instead of people with equal rights and duties. This is a tendency, not the rule and some people from other countries may not always deserve an equal or preferential treatment. But this is as exceptional the preferential treatment is. The distance at which we put the foreigners may be a normal or bell curve distribution, a variation around a mean like many social statistical phenomena: a minority may put them at a small distance, a majority at quite a distance due to their perceived foreignness with regard to values and behaviours and another minority may put them at a great distance in order to handle them more easily as marginals, because they may appear unworthy, a threat or as competitors for the same share of the cake, however, with less legitimacy.
If increased perceived distance reduces complexity of people and categorizes them as out-group and wrong, the reverse process should also apply in view of the harmonization and normalization of intercultural relations. How can that approach to improved intercultural understanding and cooperation be implemented practically?
I have just returned from shopping and I did not really see a way to continue what I yesterday considered a topic worth writing about, as we are surrounded by a high level of domestic interculturalism, Asian, EU, Eastern European, African etc. The city I live in has the highest percentage of foreigners in the entire country; up to 50 % among the young.