Living in the modern world is intriguing and challenging at the same time, as it implies that people have to be engaged in different kinds of relationships and show respect to each other despite differences in race, ethnicities, and cultures. Now, these days can be referred to as the era of cosmopolitanism, when boundaries tend to vanish. To reveal the mysteries of this term and persuade readers to integrate these concepts into their lives, Kwame Anthony Appiah, in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, describes ‘cosmopolitanism’ as a way of coexisting that implies that all people should open their minds and listen to every opinion with respect (xix). The principles of this movement imply that one has to show respect for an opposite opinion, attitude, and way of thinking even if it does not comply with one’s values and life goals. Alternatively, to unveil the important insights, the author suggests that the main feature of a cosmopolitan community is the fact that it gives individuals with different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds an opportunity to build trusting relationships with mutual respect (Appiah xix).
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In this case, the differences in beliefs including various moral, religious, and political viewpoints do not affect one’s behavior and attitudes towards other people, and I agree with the author that “we need to develop habits of coexistence” (Appiah xix). However, at the same time, I believe that this theory is hard to implement. The modern world continues to evolve and changes people’s opinions about things and events, but there are still gaps related to stereotyping, racism, and disrespect that have to be filled to make society more tolerant. I see that Appiah wishes that the idea of cosmopolitanism will be recognized and cherished globally, but the obstacles mentioned above and the lack of tolerance slow its development. To understand the principles, of this movement, I chose the LA fitness thinking that I could be a witness of cosmopolitanism because it is a place where you see people of different nationalities, ages, gender, religion, race, etc. However, I observed that not everybody was able to interact with others even when they go to the gym for the same reason. This place shows me that despite the fact that the majority of people are trying to adapt and belong to this globalized world, there is still a place for improvement.
I made my observation in the sauna of the LA fitness gym at Pembroke Pines, Saturday 4th at 10:45 am. I think this is a good place to be a witness of coexisting and interaction because it is a small place where you are sitting and it would be boring if you don’t interact with others. Like every Saturday, the gym was full; there were people on the treadmill, working out with their personal trainer, in the sauna, in the pool, and people dancing in Zumba class. There were people of different nationalities, most of them women. You could listen to conversations in different languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese and I think Mandarin. Also, they were using different types of clothes, even everybody at the gym uses sports clothes, there were people showing a lot of their body, some using small shorts and t-shirts that show their belly, in contrast with women with hijabs, and covering their shoulders and their legs as well. This huge difference about clothes you could see more in women than men.
Describing the location
The first interaction which I noticed was a conversation of two people; a man of around 50’s with black shorts and a gray t-shirt with women in her 40’s with a beautiful body using a blue tank and hot pink and blue leggings. The man initialized the conversation telling everyone that in his country, Germany, people tend to enter the sauna without clothes. This story made almost all those who were inside the sauna laugh. To which the woman replied, that she would not feel comfortable if she doesn’t use clothes in a public place like a sauna. She said in her country Brazil being naked in the sauna is not normal. For this man being naked in a place where people are strangers for him is not a big deal; however, for the women (and I think for all those who witnessed this conversation and who responded with laughter) to show herself without clothes is something very private, personal and even immoral. This is a good example of different customs and different points of view. Two different cultures that think different but they can exchange experience with respect and trying to not force their point of views on other people.
Discussion of traditions in a sauna: Germany and Brazil
In contrast with the first case, I observed a young lady around ’20s with long black hair, wearing a black tank and purple short pants. She was using headphones and acting as if she didn’t care about the rest of the people that were in the same space as her. She entered into the sauna and she didn’t say good morning or even a simple hello. She was there for less than 15 minutes. In this case, I didn’t see any kind of interaction and disagree with a point Appiah when he states: “conversations across boundaries can be delightful, or just vexing: what they mainly are, though is inevitable” (Appiah xxi). The young lady is avoiding any conversation and shows that the conversation, in this case, is evitable.
Lady who was not interested in conversations
Another observation in this place was the interaction of two women, their conversation was in Spanish; they used physical contact when they were talking, and treated each other with familiarity. Let me call women A, who had blonde and short hair in a ponytail, she was dressed in a hot pink tank and black leggings and she looks like she was in her 50’s. And woman B was in around her 50’s as well, with gray leggings and a blue t-shirt, she had dark skin and dark hair also. They were talking about children, and how different it is to raise their kids in this country without their family supporting them. Both of them stopped working to raise their children while their husbands are the head of the household. In this case, we can see they have a lot in common, their language, age, lifestyle; I haven’t seen any interaction from them with another person with different background or language. These women are not open to change, to learn about another culture, they live thinking about their life is easier in their country and here raising their children is a challenge. This contradicts Appiah’s ideology, where we must all open our minds and be open to the change that globalization brings.
Interaction between two Spanish women with a similar background
The unique case of cosmopolitanism that I saw during my observation at LA fitness was when I arrived in the sauna, a woman was alone there; and when she saw me, she smiles at me; and quickly she told “Good morning”. I’ve seen her, a couple of times in studio class but I haven’t exchanged any words with her before. She treated everyone who came across the door with great familiarity. She seemed the most cosmopolitan person I saw that day in the sauna. She was an Asian lady around her 40’s with a strong accent but that didn’t stop her from interacting with all of us. This a good example of coexistence as Appiah wishes to this world, he stated; “Cosmopolitanism isn’t hard work; repudiating it is.” (Appiah xx). For this middle age lady looks too easy to be cosmopolitan with people around her, she is the perfect prototype of what Appiah wants us all to be.
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When referring to the concepts of Appiah mentioned above, it is clear the basis of the tolerant world should be mutual respect and recognition. It is clear that everyone wants to live in harmony with others and oneself. However, it is reasonable to say that living in peace with other members of the community does not imply being engaged in active interactions with strangers. Sometimes, it is more comforting from a psychological perspective to ignore one’s actions and opinions to live long and prosper. Apart from the active recognition of rights and freedoms of different social groups, not everyone is able to listen and accept different opinions. The life of an average person is full of problems, goals, and responsibilities, and it is logical that he/she has no desire to recognize one’s viewpoints. My observations in the LA fitness and sauna clearly show that these conclusions are logical, as people from different countries were not always eager to communicate and accept customs of various cultures and ethnicities.
This example indicates that not all people are prepared to accept that one’s actions and beliefs may be different depending on ideologies. Simultaneously, the observations at the LA fitness show that individuals are more willing to communicate with people with the same background. This aspect pertains to the fact that they have many features in common and many topics to discuss such as culture and society. At the same time, some people went to the gym for a workout, and, as a consequence, communication was not their priority. I understand that my observations at the LA fitness do not comply with the image of coexistence that Appiah was describing in his book. However, this experience helped me understand that being quiet does not mean that one is not interested in talking to other people. Sometimes, not interacting and sharing opinions with strangers is a strategy to avoid conflicts and senseless arguments. Overall, I can freely claim that this study shows the idea of cosmopolitanism is actively reflected in modern society but interactions cannot be discovered as the main aspects that display it, as being quiet can also symbolize tolerance.
Appiah, Kwame. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. W.W. Norton, 2009.