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Paper Delivered at the 1st Emotional Wellbeing International Conference by Peter Mousaferiadis

July 31, 2023
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This is an extract from a speech given by Cultural Infusion CEO Peter Mousaferiadis on the occasion of the1st Emotional Wellbeing International Conference, held in Mauritius.

Dr Ameenah Sorefan, Professor Serge Riviere, Professor Drona Rasali, Professor Jeeawody, distinguished members of the board, guests and dear friends, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you all on a subject very close to my heart and life experience.

My name is Peter Mousaferiadis and I am making this presentation from the land of the Wurundjeri people in Melbourne, Australia.

I am the Founder and CEO of a cultural enterprise called Cultural Infusion whose vision is to help create a world that is culturally harmonious. I am also an official observer and a member of the taskforce for the 2005 UN Convention for the protection and promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions. 

Why was it so important to me to help create a culturally harmonious world? Because I understood what a mighty force culture is. This spoke to the importance of culture in my own life, including my background and studies in music and religion studies, which have been a constant wellspring of inspiration, energy and renewal.

Culture – which I define here as the ways in which a particular group of people live, including shared knowledge, values, customs and physical objects – is entwined with our humanity.

In 2022 UNESCO convened a World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development called Modiacult. The conference signalled a shift in the relationship between culture and development and offered the following insights:

·        Culture can fight climate change (think of the sustainability of Indigenous knowledge systems)

·        Digital must be ethical.

I often quote author Richard Powers, who said, ‘Life [since globalisation] is simply too complex and interdependent for us to wrap our heads around without the help of our machine prosthetics.’ Many well-intentioned people think technology is a dirty word but we cannot afford to leave technological advancement in the hands of a few people based in Silicon Valley or a few other technology hubs dotted around the world. We cannot let this happen unchecked or they will shape our virtual world, which is increasingly indistinguishable from our real world, in their image. Technology needs diverse developers.

Back to the Mondicult insights:

·        Cultural objects must be returned.

·        Culture is a global good. Mondiacult affirmed that diverse cultures must be protected.

·        Culture is a development goal in itself.

I will add to this that culture is known to be:

·         a driver of sustainable development;

·         an eradicator of poverty;

·         a key to quality education (just think on this for a moment – a recent study showed that Anglo-Australian students are lagging behind their multilingual peers in English language skills)

·         a key to building peaceful, cohesive and tolerant communities; and

·         a driver of innovation. Knowledge is based on the diversification of ideas, so what better way to innovate than by bringing diverse perspectives together?

Let’s just pause on this for a moment before considering that culture is also a double-edged sword.

According to UNESCO, 75% of all the conflict we have in the world has a cultural dimension. And according to the Global Peace Index, established by Australian philanthropist Steven Killelea, the cost of conflict in the world equates to almost 14% of the world’s GDP. It doesn’t take much to work out that the world is therefore spending more than 10 trillion dollars a year in dealing with conflict which has a cultural dimension. Think about that for a moment. Ten trillion dollars spent on dealing with conflict which has a cultural dimension. 

Since the 1960s we’ve seen the rise of identity politics. The World Wide Web was developed in 1989, and in 2007 we saw the rise of social media. In a way, the latter two have fuelled identity politics, leading to the polarisation of public discourse and to the ridiculing and dehumanising of entire cultural groups. We are living in a superdiverse world where the WWW and social media has allowed for extremist thinking to be shared instantly across the globe with like-minded people.

What we are seeing is a breakdown in the vision of inclusivity and cohesion in society.  Identities are divided into ‘us and them’, rather than including everyone into the ‘we’.

The late great Australian historian Patrick Wolfe wrote that ‘paradoxically, to homogenise is to divide’. The divisions in our societies are a direct cause of dehumanising systems that have created broad artificial categories not based on culture but on expediency. This can be seen, for example, in national censuses. The US Census has reported that ‘In 2000 and in 2010, the Some Other Race (SOR) population, which was intended to be a small residual category, was the third largest race group’. 

Our data and equity platform Diversity Atlas does not include race in our datasets because this is not a useful concept. Instead, it includes every known ethnicity, language, secular and non-secular tradition and other important elements of identity, amounting to more than 42,000 human attributes. This is the level of granular detail needed in today’s world that allows every person to be acknowledged and included.

Our wellbeing is inextricable from the wellbeing of our human and non-human environment. Surely this wellbeing can only be achieved by focusing much more attention on the other, on others, and in sharing and caring. 

Cultural diversity is as important to our wellbeing as biodiversity. In other words, the time is ripe for us to move out of the present economic age and into a future cultural age, where the increased intermingling of people with vastly different worldviews, values, value systems, customs, and beliefs proves to be a universal blessing rather than a diabolical curse.

In 2015, our organisation embarked on the journey to better understand cultural diversity. Until this point in time cultural diversity had been poorly defined, analytically neglected and was in need of robust understanding. After more than 300 literature reviews and a team of subject matter experts coming together from a range of disciplines we came up with a definition of cultural diversity and disaggregated into four distinct pillars. Country of Birth going back 3 generations, what cultures and ancestral groups does one identify with, what secular and non-secular traditions does one identify with and what languages/speech communities or variations does one speak. 

In the conversations that are transpiring at the Emotional Wellbeing Conference I would like you to thing to what extent culture, ethnicity and religion can significantly intersect with emotional wellbeing, shaping ow individuals perceive, experience and express their emotions. 

Here are some ways in which culture, ethnicity, and religion impact emotional wellbeing:

Emotional expression and suppression: Different cultures and ethnicities may encourage or discourage certain emotional expressions. For example, some cultures may value emotional restraint and encourage suppressing negative emotions, while others may encourage open displays of emotion. The extent to which emotions are openly expressed or suppressed can impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing.

Emotional norms and expectations: Cultures often have specific norms and expectations surrounding emotional behavior. These norms may dictate appropriate emotional responses to various situations, such as grief, joy, anger, or love. Failure to meet these cultural expectations can lead to internal conflict and emotional distress.

Social support systems: Culture and ethnicity can influence the availability and nature of social support networks. Strong social support is crucial for emotional wellbeing, and different cultural or religious communities may provide varying degrees of support during challenging times.

Coping mechanisms: Cultural and religious beliefs can shape the coping mechanisms individuals use to deal with stress and adversity. For example, some individuals may turn to prayer or meditation as coping strategies, while others may rely on community gatherings or rituals.

Stigma and mental health: Cultural attitudes toward mental health and seeking professional help can significantly impact emotional wellbeing. In some cultures, mental health issues may carry a stigma, making individuals less likely to seek support or treatment, which can negatively affect their emotional health.

Identity and belonging: Culture and ethnicity are integral components of a person’s identity. A strong sense of cultural identity and belonging can positively influence emotional well-being by providing a sense of purpose, meaning, and connectedness.

Religious coping: For individuals who adhere to a particular religion, religious beliefs and practices can be a source of comfort and guidance during challenging times. Religious coping can positively impact emotional well-being by providing a sense of hope, meaning, and spiritual support.

It’s essential to recognise that the intersection of culture, ethnicity, and religion with emotional wellbeing is complex and multifaceted. Not every individual within a specific cultural or religious group will experience emotions in the same way, as personal experiences, upbringing, and individual differences also play a significant role in shaping emotional well-being. Additionally, these influences can vary between generations and may evolve over time as societies and cultural norms change. Understanding and respecting these intersections are crucial for providing effective support and promoting emotional wellbeing across diverse communities.

The reasoning for my focus on cultural diversity is that if we understand the other better and in particular the metrics that comprise of diversity which include variety, balance, disparity and mutuality then we can work towards  advancing the understanding and impacts of emotional wellbeing towards flourishing societies. 

My final thought is that culture is overarching and underpinning. Every society has a culture. A way of thinking. A way of behaving. Social norms. All these guide society. If you want to have social change then you need to change culture; in other words, social change is embedded in cultural change.

Finally, I would like to thank Sundram Sivamalai and the organising committee of the Emotional WellBeing Institute for the opportunity to contribute to this conference.

Peter Mousaferiadis

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