Eye on Ethics - A Young SIETAR Perspective

Charmilla Kasper

Introduction

Young SIETAR aims to be the global organization for emerging professionals in the intercultural field. We provide a creative platform for exploring approaches that embrace cultural differences and cultivate appreciation. As part of the wider SIETAR network we are interested in building a bridge between aspiring newcomers and established professionals. In calling ourselves global we also want to move beyond national categories of our society by providing a space for members from all over the world to develop their intercultural skills with and via one another.

Our Eye on Ethics

Ethical principles provide us with guidelines about what might be considered right and wrong behaviors within a given context. The intention of such frameworks is to help us make decisions so we may act in ways that will not harm or offend our fellow human beings. We also appreciate however that each culture, whether national, local, generational, ethnic or otherwise, has a process and history of determining its own approach in determining right and wrong. Therefore, what might be right in our own cultures could essentially be wrong in another, and vice versa.

We believe however, that there are universal strategies we could apply to every context that might assist us in achieving our intercultural aims from an ethical perspective. These are essentially philosophical tenets that we, as interculturalists, might continuously reflect on and reconstruct as our understanding and experiences of cross-cultural encounters develop. We should also note that these strategies are not expectations that we have of those we are interacting with; rather they are the basis from which we approach intercultural encounters while accepting the role that we play in managing difference and promoting equality.

Critical Self-Reflection

Perhaps the most paramount ethical principle that we believe should guide our intercultural practice is being aware of ourselves. This means we continuously and critically reflect on our own default worldview. We are committed to the process of understanding and accepting that our own culture will influence our emotional and cognitive interpretation when we encounter someone or something that is “different”. We recognize that we have stereotypes, are conscious of what “pushes our personal buttons” and acknowledge that it is always possible to develop our intercultural skills. In doing so, we open up the possibilities of making and accepting decisions that are not only based on our own concepts of “right” and “wrong” but also respect and incorporate alternative perspectives of those who are different from us.

Recognizing Power

Linked to critical self-reflection, recognizing power imbalances also plays an important role in how Young SIETAR would like to approach ethical issues. We are sensitive to power positions within relationships and society, and recognize that the world is not a “level playing-field”. Poverty, racism, sexism, literacy, language and disability often determine the position of groups or individuals and their ability to engage equally in intercultural dialogue. Not because they are intrinsically incapable of engaging - but because discriminatory social norms and political discourse assigns subordinate value to their perspectives. Practicing empathy and considering how accessible our communication processes are facilitates our ability to understand others’ perspectives from their power position. This does not mean we are immune to using our own power positions at the expense of other groups or individuals. However, being aware that there is such a dynamic, coupled with critical self-reflection, should help us continuously develop our communication processes to be more inclusive.

Anti-static

Continuous reflection about ourselves and the power positions that affect intercultural communication implies a view on the intercultural field itself. Here, Young SIETAR is “anti-static”, in that we would like to challenge normative theories that use limiting models to define culture and communication. Effectively, we would like to intentionally promote intercultural competence by expanding the current conceptualization of the term “intercultural”. This means we approach our goal with a conscious awareness that the model of national cultures is shifting, broadening and becoming more complex. There are emerging ways to consider how culture influences our communication and we are interested in providing a platform for these to be explored.

This includes listening to what people of all ages have to contribute and supporting their inclusion in projects that are meaningful for them. Further, we aim to move beyond the fragmented concept of studying, researching and training on intercultural competence to also promote the possibility of integrated interculturalism. This means offering members opportunities to practice intercultural competence not only in their professional capacities but also in social and private settings.

Conclusion

We aim to acknowledge, validate, explore and celebrate the multiple layers of difference that are present in our interactions; but also to be honest about the challenges of working across these differences. In continuously aspiring to be more inclusive via our approach, we hope to challenge and encourage those in the field to also become more self-aware, resilient and open to appreciating and navigating difference.




Charmilla Kasper from New Zealand is the Research Coordinator for Young SIETAR. She has studied Intercultural Conflict Management and is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion. For this project she was assisted by Young SIETAR members, Melissa Cruze Hahn from USA and Maria Rosaria Nava from Italy.




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