According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization(UNESCO), three-quarters of the world’s conflicts have a cultural dimension. Knowing this, we have to ask ourselves: how do we have less division and more harmony on the planet?
Reggae artist Ziggy Marley believes that festivals can bring collective well-being, and he’s not the only one! Art of Living founder and global humanitarian Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been at the forefront of World Cultural Festivals (WCFs) since 2006. His message is that “diversity is the beauty of creation” and that celebrating diversity with millions of people has a healing impact.
With the United States set to host the next WCF this fall in Washington, DC, I am thrilled to share more on how festivals can have a lasting impact—creating a better and more peaceful world!
My First World Culture Festival
I will never forget my first World Culture Festival. My family and I trudged eight miles in the rain to the 2016 WCF in New Delhi, India. Our traveling troupe of 16 included my 10-year-old son and my veteran dad. Dad was a literal trooper, as if he was back in the army and fulfilling an all-important mission.
One of my fondest memories was seeing the glee on my son’s face as we sat through riveting cultural performances. The grounds reverberated with the sounds of 375 drummers from South Africa! Artists from around the world mesmerized us with Brazilian Samba, Argentinian Tango, Hip Hop, and Rap! The awe-inspiring experience shared by the 3.75 million people present created an undeniable sense of unity. And the meditation was one of the world’s largest to ever take place!
The Healing Impact of World Culture Festivals
I believe culture festivals can shift our collective consciousness! Here are some of the ways they could have a healing impact on you and the world at large.
A reprieve from all that is bleak!
Recently, the world has gone through a global pandemic and multiple natural disasters. Add to that ongoing war, gun violence, and racism; you’ve got a recipe for large-scale mental health problems and substance abuse. Nine in 10 American adults believe there is a mental health crisis, and 50% of young adults (ages 18–24) report anxiety and depression symptoms.
It is time to shift our focus from negativity and divisiveness to unity and celebration! We’ve done it before, and we can do it now!
For example, in Ancient Greece, people stopped fighting and competed in athletics during the PanHellenic games. And there was a spontaneous Christmas truce during World War I between enemy soldiers. World Culture Festival is our chance to turn away from division and toward unity and celebration.
Economic gains have health benefits!
Festivals boost tourism and yield jobs for local communities. Angie Gates, President and CEO of eventsdc.com, estimates that this WCF will generate $29.8 million for the area. It will boost finances and social capital and reduce stress for thousands in the region. This reduced stress and improved social connectivity will improve overall health not just for those directly impacted by financial gains but also for all those in attendance.
We are a “One World Family”
The WCF celebrates unity in diversity and makes us feel like a “One World Family.” The ancient Indian Vedas refer to this as “Vasudev Kutumbakam.”
The small-minded believe that this is mine and that is theirs. The wise believe that the entire world is one family.
Research by Yale psychologists shows people who attend secular community festivals feel transformed. It improves their connection with humanity and willingness to help even distant strangers.
By performing, volunteering, and attending WCFs, lives are transformed into joyful expressions creating ripples of peace.
Mental and Physical Health Benefits
Research by Dr. Daisy Fancourt (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care) suggests festivals have mental health benefits and could lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The WCF, in particular, will generate social connections which foster improved health and more happiness.
WCFs are possible because of volunteers and donors. It takes a global village to put on a festival of this magnitude. And it is well known that volunteering has a myriad of mental, physical, and social health benefits.
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says the festival will address mental health issues and loneliness. “Meditations and inspirational talks will make people realize they are not alone. We need to see that society is free of all types of stress. We will work towards this and are inviting different organizations. It’s a collective effort to make society happier.”
Also a part of the WCF experience are the group meditations which reduce stress and improve health. When we reflect on our cultural lineage, it makes us feel proud.
Participating in art and creativity can improve the health of those with coronary heart disease, chronic illnesses, trauma, and cancer. Drinking, substance use, and overindulgence are less likely to take place at a conscious spiritual celebration.
Ushering in Peace
UNESCO believes that protecting and safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritages and supporting creativity and dynamic cultural sectors are fundamental to addressing the challenges of our time, from climate change to poverty, inequality, the digital divide, and ever more complex emergencies and conflicts. Greater peace is a natural result of celebrating the diverse cultures of our planet.
The Kirwan Institute advocates celebrating diversity. This directly combats racism, prejudice, and implicit biases, resulting in more peaceful cohabitation.
WCF will generate social connections and a sense of community which will foster belongingness and more peace.
Award-winning, Harvard-trained mind-body researcher Ronnie Newman outlines two scientific discoveries which explain WCF’s benefits to humanity:
“Mirror Neuron Systems—When people interact, our emotions, whether positive or negative, spread like a virus from one person’s brain to another. The brain circuitries that create this phenomenon are called mirror neuron systems because the listener’s brain mirrors what your brain is doing while you’re experiencing that emotion. Neuroscientists define it as a neural Wi-Fi or a Neural Virus.
If there is one thing we learned from Covid, it is how quickly viruses spread. Imagine the impact of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world feeling uplifted and connected and returning home and spreading this positivity. This would create a positive pandemic, a welcome antidote to the depression, anxiety, and loneliness that are increasing globally.
And a second global mental health benefit we can expect is through what is called Emotional Contagion. Social science researchers have discovered that beyond impacting one’s immediate circle, we have an unconscious emotional impact even on people who are total strangers. People subconsciously pick up cues from our facial expressions, body language, and even nonverbal interactions, like watching our friendly interaction with a check-out clerk. People begin to feel some of the emotions we are exuding, which spreads from them to others. This phenomenon is called emotional contagion.
Researchers discovered emotional contagion infuses entire groups with greater positive emotions and influences the groups’ attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors resulting in an increase in helpful and constructive behaviors. It decreases those that cause conflict. We usually think of emotions as originating from the inside out. This shows emotions can also be generated from the outside in. Imagine, as you attend WCF and return home, others will benefit simply by virtue of your presence!”
My personal Invitation
I invite you to the 4th World Culture Festival, September 29–October 1, in Washington, DC. More than 150,000 people from 180 countries will be there.
This free event features music, art, food, meditations, inspirational talks, and a commitment to peace. Get your free passes here.
I can’t wait for this healing, historic extravaganza, and invite you to join me!