ROSE NOLEN: American isolationism is fueled by ignorance

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST

This is one of the few times in my life I can remember ever making a conscious decision that I needed to take a vacation. To be honest, it was the 21 inches of snow piled up in my yard that encouraged me to make that decision.

It didn't help when I called my son to complain and he asked if 21 inches was all I had. It turned out he was looking out his back window at four feet.

And that wasn't the only change that took place in my life this month. On the third day I was confined to quarters because of the snow, I came to the conclusion I couldn't handle the adverse weather, as well as the annoying repetitious cable news programs. Something had to go. There was nothing I could do about the weather, but the remote control was at my command. Since then, my relationship with cable news has come to an end for the time being.

That set me thinking about what it is that has gone wrong in our discussions and communications with each other. I remembered that one of the many good things that came out of the civil rights movements was the knowledge that if we were all going to learn to live together in peace and harmony, everybody needed to learn acceptance and respect for other cultures. We learned that through a process called sensitivity training. And although I can laugh today at the number of times I commented that I didn't think I could possibly be more sensitive, I'm glad I attended every one of those sessions.

Sometimes, listening to people on television, as well as in person, discuss people of other cultures is actually embarrassing. One would think our education system should be the finest in the world, but some of our citizens are so painfully uneducated about the customs and traditions of other people I fear those who are so frightened of having to accept foreigners as their neighbors will have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, I don't think the people they fear will want to have anything to do with people so unlearned.

I think what happened was people who were involved in the civil rights movement genuinely wanted to learn to appreciate other cultures. When that movement ended, many of those who only came together because they were compelled to by law were not interested in learning about other cultures and therefore made no attempt to do so. And so, until this day, many people are locked into the same culture to which they were born and have no desire for change.

Many people assumed the education system would take care of this problem. Unfortunately, that system failed in so many ways. Most of us speak only one language and have little knowledge or understanding of people in the rest of the world. And even though we have the marvelous educational tool of television, that is used primarily for commercial ventures.

I can't help but think back to the wonderful experience my son had when he took French in high school. He had the kind of teacher who made learning fun. In addition to studying the language, the students were encouraged to prepare a French meal. They corresponded and exchanged letters with French high school students and read French literature. It was his favorite class.

It seems to me this is just one more area in which we Americans have become a divided population. We have many who are ready to become a part of the global population and others who truly believe they can remain a country that can exist in isolation.

And the sad reality is because of upbringing and education, many do not realize they have denied themselves the privilege and joy of getting to know other cultures and getting to participate in a larger, more dynamic world.

Actually, we should have learned this in school as little children. But, because of the narrow-mindedness of some, we were deprived of that experience. We have had more than enough years to make up for that lost time.

We can either become part of a more understanding, compassionate and peace-loving world community, or we can stand by and watch it alone.

The choice is ours.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Ellie Funke February 22, 2011 | 9:34 a.m.

What change are you looking for? I’m all for learning and being sensitive to another culture in order to communicate effectively. I draw the line at changing to this level… “And so, until this day, many people are locked into the same culture to which they were born and have no desire for change.” You’re right in that I am proud of the culture I was born into and have no desire to change that. The following paragraph is what the man who raised me would say if he were still alive today. I’m proudly locked into that culture.
“I’ll keep wearing my cowboy hat and boots and ‘ma’am, I don’t give a damn’ if that seems offensive. It is not intended to be offensive to anyone; perhaps those who would be offended should become more educated of the true western culture. If I stand alone at least you'll find me standing for something.”
I have no intention of watering down my culture. I do strive to learn other cultures although I will not practice them, would hope they do the same with mine.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 22, 2011 | 9:48 a.m.

One problem is....not all cultures are created equal.

If they were, what would be the purpose of Amnesty International?

So, no....there are some cultures for which I do not need to "learn acceptance and respect."

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen February 23, 2011 | 3:55 p.m.

Curious comments. I'm not sure how learning about another culture waters down your own. Getting outside the U.S. several times has given me a lot more perspective on my own culture. If anything, it adds to what I already have and know. Maybe I'm not catching it right, but it sounds like these comments say that 'knowing about' and 'participating in' are pretty much the same. I'm all for knowing about things outside my own beliefs and frame of reference as it gives me more ability to deal with things. If nothing else, it reduces my fear of the unknown. But knowing about something doesn't mean I'm obligated to participate in it. Maybe we should be careful to not judge something before learning about it.

This piece speaks to the idea that the more we emphasize our differences the more we forget our commonalities, which causes division and unnecessary rancor. I wonder what would happen if we reversed it?

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