Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Globalization and the "imagined other"

I've continued to read Religions: A Scholarly Journal, Issue 0, of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue. The most recent article I read by Afe Adogame (p. 174-192) explained that, in relation to religious and political dialogue in Nigeria, globalization has created a sense of "imagined other" that has turned inter-group awareness into marginalization and violence. The point made is that, as globalization continues to emerge, cultural groups are introduced to each other in ways that create competition and antagonism. The reason this occurs is that as difference is recognized, it sometimes hardens one's own cultural perspective, resulting in differences being exaggerated beyond what they really are. Thus, an "imagined other" is constructed through differentiation rather than through seeing the possibilities for mutual and shared journey.

What I find fascinating is how this concept relates to one I introduced during discussions at the recent National (U.S.A.) Leadership Symposium held in Richmond, Virginia, last week. I was asked to offer comments on Deeper Learning in Leadership and, of course, due to the intervening three years of working abroad since I published it, I couldn't help but reflect through the new lenses I now have. What I proposed at the Symposium was that leadership educators may be better off to approach the question of the relevance of the 1,000+ definitions and approaches to leadership that we now have through "principled universalism" (Reza Shah-Kazemi, Religion: A Scholarly Journal, Issue 0, p. 117- 139, DICID) rather than trying to determine which is right or better than the others. The idea of "principled universalism" is that, in order to be successful in inter-faith dialogue, those who advocate it should concentrate on the universals that all/most religions embrace rather than attending to the differences that separate each. The idea is different than indiscriminate syncretism which is relativism used to create superficial sameness. Instead, principled universalism encourages differences in points of view and advocates that the fine points where religions diverge is the result of historic, cultural, and inspirational context. Many religions can then have a place and purpose while recognizing the importance and relevance of others. I used this core idea to propose that leadership might be the same way - rather than focusing on what separates the various perspectives on leadership, perhaps a strategy could be to accommodate the different views (business, political, social change, arts, etc.) while drawing out how each contributes to a universal hope for leadership - drawing the globe together in prosperity and peace.

Placing the two ideas together, "imagined other" and "principled universalism," then might allow us to recognize that, as the globe shrinks and exposes us to peoples we have never encountered before, we need to be careful not to construct imagined differences that could lead to competition and even conflict. What if global thinkers were able to identify universal aspirations that cross culture, history, politics, and economics? What if we recognized that our differences are important and must be respected but that, at our core, there are essential and universal aspirations toward which we can all work? What if the imagined others could be reduced in number in a variety of areas in our lives and what if leadership could be cultivated to bring this type of reason to the challenges we face around the globe?