With the advent of technology and converging markets, cultural awareness has become an important facet of business, politics, entertainment and society. To be culturally aware is to understand that cultural differences do exist, and to be sensitive to and respect those differences when interacting with people whose customs and world view may be different from our own.
Cultural awareness is the ability and willingness to objectively examine the values, beliefs, traditions and perceptions within our own and other cultures. At the most basic level, it is the ability to walk in someone else's shoes in terms of his or her cultural origins.
Stereotypes arise when what is examined and perceived in a different culture is made into a generality that is then used to define anyone who belongs to the same culture. Cultural awareness counters stereotypes by understanding that while the elements of a culture binds individuals together, they are still individuals with unique circumstances and personalities.
Cultural Awareness Stages
There are four stages of cultural awareness. A person who is at the Parochial stage of cultural awareness doesn't understand the basic concept of cultural diversity; he believes his is the only culture and that no cultures exist outside of his own. At the Ethnocentric stage, a person realizes there are other cultures, but that his is superior to all others. People whose cultural awareness is at the Synergistic stage recognize cultural differences and believes these differences can be beneficial and can contribute equally when problem-solving. At the Participatory Third Culture stage, people from different cultures are able to come together to share and create new cultural elements.
The key to cultural awareness is to promote cultural diversity by being nonjudgemental and empathetic toward people from other cultures. The ability to objectively evaluate situations without stereotyping and assumptions helps to promote cultural diversity and heighten cultural awareness.