How cultural heritage can heal a fractured world

Some explore the future while others explore the past. Both equally fascinating and necessary. Together we manage a better present

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This year in Davos the debate has been mainly focused on how we create a shared future in a fractured world; in such a critic moment for society there has been one important figure missing: cultural heritage.

This is a significant fact because it happens right at the start of 2018, the year the European Union (for the first time in its history) has dedicated to cultural heritage with the purpose of promoting our common history and values and to reinforce the sense of belonging to a common European space. This news is going unnoticed in most of the world’s media and even in the European Union budget: 8 million euros for a two-year period (2017 and 2018) and for 28 Member States.

Beyond artificial intelligence and the technological revolution, we are seeing how hidden truths come to light every day, revealing everything that has not been done well and cannot longer be sustained. An unpleasant but necessary step if we truly want to rebuild the future, for which we must promote a profound transformation of our political, business, social and personal consciousness.

This is a concern manifested in a broader debate that is taking place in many business, academic and political forums and tries to aswer some key questions: how do we recover authenticity and the true identity of our brands and organisations, how can we show more honesty and transparency, how do we put a value our true essence…

Today’s global context marks the end of an era and the beginning of another, the reason why we need cultural heritage and cultural heritage needs us. Above its technical or legal definition and all it stands for in terms of monuments, historic buildings or sites, documentary archives, archaelogical works, cultural artifacts, etc., cultural heritage is of paramount importance for one reason: it reminds us who we are. It is the lever that activates the transformation of consciousness. As it happens in our families, it is the inheritance we get and the one we need to understand in order to improve it. We don’t need to preserve it all, but in order to make better decisions, we first have to know it, honor it and respect it.

European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 Campaign. #EuropeForCulture

The great value of cultural heritage for society can be categorized in three levels:

First, cultural heritage gives us information. The basis of education, knowledge and wisdom. Essential components of true power and personal freedom. A basic asset in today’s society because even though there is more information available than ever, we devour it without much reflection. We need to recover what is most important, our own voice, and for that we need to develop critical thinking skills.

Secondly, cultural heritage allows us to discover what has always been there, hidden to our eyes. It activates the feelings of the heart, generates empathy, compassion and love. As Einstein thought, the real feeling that allows human beings to connect, infinitely more powerful than any technology in the world. The only one capable of placing the focus on people and recovering the humanity we have lost.

Finally, cultural heritage speaks about our own social consciousness, who we are in terms of community. Last February 6-7th, the «European Union and Cultural Heritage» Reflection Group met in Toledo gathering delegates from different Member States and the Council of Europe. I had the opportunity to participate as representative of Hispania Nostra and together with Europa Nostra Vicepresident, Piet Jaspaert (both associations as observing members) and precisely in one of the keynote speeches Patrick Dondelinger, from Luxembourg, talked about the indicators that allow us to assess the level of social consciousness in a community and everything that moves us away from it.

The situation of cultural heritage all over the world helps us understand that in the globalization process that is now derailing, cultural values, true essence and identity have mostly been subordinated to the economic criterion. But here it remains, available for anyone who has the audacity to look and to appreciate its worth, the tangible and the intangible. 

The immeasurable value cultural heritage brings to society (information, emotions and social consciousness), apart from being an essential engine for economic development, provides us with a strong foundation to start changing our mindset and behavior and therefore our organizations, for the benefit of those who will come after us.

No wonder why cultural heritage remains hidden, it is far too important, it is of no interest. It is a «public enemy» for everyone who wants to linger to the past and to the old structures. In fact, in times of conflict (and not only armed conflict) such as today, cultural icons and sites are the first thing to be destroyed or recovered, as symbols of identity and community.

There is a sentence I very much like and I think it perfectly applies now: «If you erase your footprints you disappear». And we are about to disappear. Not only are we failing at preserving our cultural heritage; we are building a new culture that teaches young people ephemeral values that limit their potential and make them overly-dependent, encouraging them to focus on inmediate results, ego, material values, purchase anxiety, fierce competition and fear of failure.

We cannot lose more time. We need to integrate cultural heritage in our daily lives, in our companies and in our policies so we can recover our origins, the path that has brought us here and the one who will allow us to draw a brighter one.  

Article published at LBM Insights 

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