By Viktoria Vidali
For every expat, moving to a foreign land means acclimating to a new culture, defined as “those shared patterns of belief, knowledge, and conduct typical to a particular area of the world.” Depending upon your character, adapting to the culture can be easy or difficult. However, cultural flexibility should not be confused, as it often is, with an acceptance of obvious breaches of fundamental human values.
Three principles manifest themselves in the populations of highly civilized societies and in individuals we most admire: (1) a respect for oneself and others, which includes honesty toward oneself and others; (2) beneficence, to do good (and to not harm others); and (3) justice: treating others fairly. Following these ethical standards, particularly while living outside our home countries where we are frequently noticed because of the language we speak or the way we look, sets positive examples that resonate beyond personal relationships. So as a practical rule of thumb, it’s sensible to be — as much as possible — “on our good behavior!”
Regardless of the level of corruption in any government, the public’s acceptance of deplorable deeds — e.g., lying, cheating, stealing — reinforces wrong. When expats join with locals to tackle social problems, bureaucracy, or environmental destruction, as the case may be, they are acknowledging a mutual interest in insuring opportunities for everyone to excel and live in peace. We humans are, after all, more alike than we are different.
Discovering our similarities can occur in many ways, and one of the best is through art. Art — and this, of course, includes music and literature — speaks a universal language that mysteriously penetrates the heart. Dr. Craig Wright, the Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music at Yale University, has observed that it’s tough to find fault in a person who enjoys the same music as you do! When students learn from great teachers and artists, they develop a natural respect that easily transcends cultural differences.
Dostoyevsky once let drop the enigmatic phrase: “Beauty will save the world.” What does this mean? For a long time it used to seem to me that this was a mere phrase. Just how could such a thing be possible? When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything? Beauty had provided embellishment certainly, given uplift – but whom had it ever saved?
However, there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart.
True artists are authentically themselves, come what may. Rather than operating in line with popular commercial trends, they thrive in atmospheres of diversity and variety. A distinctive blending of cultures regularly inspires their imagination and generates works of spectacular beauty. Undeniably, authenticity must be encouraged so that each artist’s unique voice can be heard.
[A] work of art bears within itself its own confirmation: concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or over-strained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one. Works steeped in truth and presenting it to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power- and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them.
It is wonderful to witness the blossoming of art in Ecuador. Cuenca’s foundation festival earlier this month attracted tens-of-thousands of visitors from around the country and the world. Even in pueblos, a renaissance of art is taking place. The national Casa de Cultura program has now established an extension in Vilcabamba that brings well-known musicians to town from Loja and elsewhere for free concerts. In April, a group of resident artists from around the world — Italy, England, Ecuador, Poland, the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Serbia, Argentina, Peru, Spain — formed Arte Intercultural Vilcabamba. With its gallery opening in December, art-education-dance classes, cottage industry prospects, and a mobile children’s library planned for 2016, the opportunities for intercultural integration through the arts are soaring.
And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light — yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.
Author’s Note: All quotes are excerpted from Beauty Will Save the World: The Nobel Lecture on Literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Viktoria Vidali is a founder of Arte Intercultural Vilcabamba.