The Policies Not the People: Intercultural Relations

In Ireland recently, my family and I went on a tour with Denis Ryan, a Celtic folk musician, historian and tour guide.  He took us on an anthropological tour of the Dingle Peninsula.  We showed us the Ogham stones, Dun Beag, a fort built in 500 B.C., beehive huts in Faran, the Reasc Stone, the Gallarus Oratory, Ventry Castle and Fitzgerald Castle.  A good part of the tour demonstrates the sites and remains from the atrocities committed by the British against the Irish people.   From British occupation to inhumane response to the potato famine, the relationship between England and Ireland has been of early colonialism and as a result, strained, to say the least.  Just to say something to fill in the conversation, I said something like, “I can see why the Irish resent the British people”.   Mr. Ryan turned to me and said, very formally, “Madam, it is the policies, not the people that one must resist”.   His insight struck me as a very important concept in intercultural relations.  Of course, our history created our cultures and that history filled with colonialism, oppression, occupations, and violence has created cultural differences and divides as well as  hatred and animosity.  However, holding individuals accountable for the history is not as productive as addressing the policies that created the differences and the  oppression.
In thinking about intercultural communication, I realized that our biases and prejudices that inhibit respectful discourse and full communication stem more from policies and how the policies affect us and the way we see the world.  Thus, we learn our prejudices and biases from structures and institutional biases and inequalities.  Dismantling those biases from our mind is an important step in intercultural relations.  However, we must also be vigilant about examining policies and intercultural relations that exacerbate the divide. 
How, you may ask, does this relate to Best Practices for Legal Education?  It relates to best practices in two major regards.  First, law schools have an obligation to teach students about the law, and the values of the legal profession, including justice, fairness and morality. (p.45)   Thus, an examination of the policy implications of the law should be foundational.  And, on page 54, Best Practices suggests as an outcome of effective legal education,   students should “Demonstrate the capacity to deal sensitively and effectively with clients, colleagues and others from a range of social, economic and ethnic backgrounds, identifying and responding positively and appropriately to issues of culture and disability that might affect communication techniques.”    Thus, insights about effective intercultural communication can help us come closer to the ideals of Best Practices.
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