Culture is how people think, says Martin Davidson, CEO of the British Council. Thinking of culture in this way creates the necessary intellectual space to conceive of cultural relations and cultural diplomacy as something more than engagement that a payoff that is subtle and decades away. It is a way to create pathways that can be leveraged to prevent or resolve conflict in the short term.
On March 2, 2010, the British Council, with NATO and Security Defence Agenda, hosted a conference in Brussels at the Bibliothèque Solvay titled “Conflict Prevention and Resolution: the Role of Cultural Relations.” The purpose was to discuss the value of building dialogues between groups that can be non-linguistic – such as sport, art, or civic development – to create opportunities for engagement, understanding, with goal of, as the title said, preventing and resolving conflict.
Knowing how people think, how they relate to one another, and how they communicate is essential within and across cultures. Cultural activities may be expressed in terms of exchanges of teachers, students, sports, languages but there is more to it then exchanging art work. We take for granted the vocabulary and points of contact even as understanding culture is ingrained in our daily lives. In corporate America, for example, this can take the form of participating in office betting pools during college basketball finals to playing golf with the boss or clients.