• Steve

Migrants, Culture and New Zealand Values: What on Earth Does it Mean?

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about New Zealand values and the importance of all people adhering to them, including migrants. The argument goes that any new migrant entering our country should live by New Zealand’s set of values. Of course, when we talk values, as a culture we are showing the world just “how we do things around here.”

Culture is predominately about values and it is about deeply rooted patterns of values, customs, attitudes and beliefs that distinguish one group from another.

Contrary to what many people believe, culture is more about ‘values systems’ than it is about ethnicity. An African American for example living in Compton, Los Angeles is unlikely to share the same cultural values as his ethnically linked ancestors currently living in Senegal. Similarly, groups who share the same ethnicity can share completely different values systems, which can lead to major conflicts; Catholics and Protestants fighting over differences in religious values in Northern Ireland, is one of many examples that come to mind.

Values provide people with a moral and ethical compass to direct them how to lead their lives and as a result they deal with pairings such as:

* Good vs Evil (often sorted out through philosophy, spirituality and religion)

* Forbidden vs Permitted

* Moral vs Immoral

* Abnormal vs Normal

* Natural vs Unnatural

* Dirty vs Clean

Values are acquired early in life. Before we even begin to walk, our cultural context provides us with strong moral messages. Cultural values tend to be passed on from generation to generation; we learn them from our parents, who acquired them when they were children. Cultural values can be maintained over hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Values and the Law

A country’s values are often reflected in law, which all inhabitants of course, are expected to follow, regardless if someone is a newly arrived immigrant, or a fourth-generation citizen. In New Zealand for example, we have the Human Rights Act (1993) that makes it unlawful to discriminate on a wide variety of grounds, including but not limited to, religious belief, gender, political opinion and sexual orientation.

It may be easy to target migrants who arrive from cultures where gender equality is limited to non-existent, or where homosexuality is a capital offence, but what we must also realize is that even within our own established culture there are elements of society who do not agree with the law based on moral grounds (values). Homosexuality is an obvious example; there are some conservative groups within New Zealand, who believe homosexuality is an immoral and unnatural act. Some members of this group would therefore be morally ok discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, and they certainly wouldn’t support our law for same-sex marriage. Therefore, values conflict is not only an issue affecting our perception of migrants, but it exists amongst individuals regardless of cultural backgrounds.

Motivation for migrating to New Zealand

Finally, we must also remember that it takes a seismic shift, such as moving to a different country with a completely different values system to break ties with traditional cultural values. This of course is the reason why many people choose to make New Zealand their home; they move here because they respect our values and what we stand for. On occasions there will be the odd ‘bad egg’, but isn’t that true in any society, whether someone arrived three days….. or three generations ago?

We should be welcoming people from different cultures into New Zealand. We should feel proud to widen our moral circle by understanding the perspectives of different cultures. Similarly, we should not tolerate any behaviours that do not abide by the laws of the country, whether that person is a newly arrived immigrant, or not.

Steve Morris is Director of Cross-Cultural TransitioNZ ( New Zealand's Leading intercultural training company and consultancy.

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