If one looks attentively at the real world - and does not
succumb to reductionism - the words "identical" and
"homogeneous" refer to empty classes.
There are no homogeneous societies. Neither are there homogeneous
cultures. Both are impossible as each human being is unique.
Wherever one looks one finds but plurality and diversity.
All different - All equal
Democracies differ from other societies in that they are built
on the constitutional principle that all citizens - whatever
their differences - are equal before the law. The notion of human
rights widens the circle to include all human beings.
"All different, All equal" - the motto of a recent
campaign of the Council of Europe - is shared by many, but certainly
not by all.
Processes of opinion formation do not abide by the law. Nor
do they follow logic.
Learning is a bodily process taking place while the brain
transforms incoming and self-generated stimuli as the individual
interacts with his surroundings. Experiences of human beings
and their learning histories
Human beings learn incidentally and intentionally. A large
part of what we learn is developed as we experience this that
and the other in everyday life. Most of what can be labelled
social and cultural knowledge - including language - is learned
by experiencing the behaviour of other human beings.
Much of the knowledge individuals draw upon to interpret their
experiences develops in this fashion. Similar unique experiences
- given the way the brain works - tend to interweave into tendentially
dominant patterns. Despite that fact dissonances can still appear
since we have a multitude of divergent experiences.
The other side of the coin is that what we have not experienced
(including such virtual experiences as TV or reading) or developed
ourselves is not available to us for recombination.
The pivotal competence for living in a democracy is to accept
that other people are different - behave differently and have
different values - without at the same time excluding them from
It is a competence that has to be systematically developed
- just like correct spelling or doing mathematics.
But how ?
A special effort is needed
It is a competence that is certainly more difficult to promote
than correct spelling - after all, most of the texts people read
are spelt correctly.
But - in real life - accepting the different as equal is far
more important than correct spelling.
Any ideas are welcome ! Write to: email@example.com
THE VIENNA THINK-TANK AND OTHERNESS
All major activities of the "Vienna Think-Tank"
are - in addition to their specific goals - also aiming at overcoming
any kind of exclusion argued on grounds other than those based
directly on the unique individual case.
Explaining language and culture - in terms of uniqueness
Trying to base a new synthesis in thinking about thinking,
language and culture on the uniqueness of every human individual,
every human experience, and every human act aims - in addition
to its intrinsic goal - also at removing the bases for reification
of language and culture.
If cultures are reified than what you get is "our culture"
and "their culture". Given those constructs, it is
extremely easy to exclude persons coming from another culture
from the "we" by assigning them to "their culture",
even if they live in the same house as you.
If cultures are conceived of as processes and human beings
as social carriers of cultures who behave at any given moment
according to one or the other variety of cultural behaviours
which they have acquired over their life-time people who live
where you live can no longer be interpreted as part and parcel
of "that other culture" - they have become also part
Even if we succeed to develop such an explanatory scheme -
which seems likely - it will produce effects relating to the
acceptance of others only in the long run.
But putting all people qualified as "the others"
- or all human beings which share one characteristic, one affiliation
or allegiance - into one bag and assigning the same positive
or negative qualities to all of them will have become a little
Language learning - and the acceptance of others
Learning additional languages is learning about other cultures,
is learning about ways in which other people live, think and
deal with their respective worlds. Teaching languages, thus,
has a unique potential to promote understanding of and respect
for others - individuals and cultures. As far as target languages
and cultures are concerned this objective is by and large attained.
Since in learning a language one learns to know, to accept,
and to value ways of thinking and acting of others, language
learners could also acquire - in one and the same process - a
world view in which being different is accepted as the normal
way of being. This specific potential of language teaching remains
The Adult Education Academy Brigittenau, which hosts the Vienna
Think-Tank, offers courses in more than 60 languages. Sequences,
modules, and materials with a potential for acquiring this key
social competence and for developing the related thinking habits
can, therefore, also be tested on the spot.
We are looking for partners in developing that untapped potential!
Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org