We live in a time when many traditions change faster than before due to freer flow of information since there are new media and less government control, and because people travel and migrate. People have awareness about how other people live and think. Sometimes, though, the awareness is superficial in a time with vast information flow and we are unable to go in depth. We should also remember that to know about other traditions and customs doesn’t mean that we change ourselves. Maybe we become more tolerant and open-minded, but sometimes we may become more orthodox and traditional, nostalgic and worried about all the new influences.

In today’s article I shall reflect on some issues concerning change of traditions and customs. I also want to underline that although people are different, much is also the same for all people. People are people everywhere on the planet, to put it simply, in spite of the differences that first catch the eye. And then, in the midst of a time of change, some people become more orthodox and traditional, perhaps because they feel nostalgic about the past and want to preserve old ways, and because they are worried about the ‘lose and light’ ways of people who adopt everything new without much critical evaluation and depth, even throwing over board moral and ethical foundations, which to a great extent defined who the people were.

When immigrants come to a new land, they want to keep some of their old traditions and customs, as they should, especially their religion. At the same time, the newcomers have to adjust to the new land’s ways, including language, dress codes, fashions, values and standards. The newcomers want to become more like the majority people in their new land, who they feel look down upon them if they don’t change.

Behind doors, in their homes, in the mosque, church or temple, in gatherings with other immigrants only, some become more traditional and conservative, and they may overdo it, too. We know that in some immigrant communities, for example when Norwegians migrated to America 150-200 years ago, they kept many traditions that changed in the sending country. Sometimes, their religious traditions were frozen in time through their lifetime. Others, who integrate fast and live closer with colleagues and friends from the new land, or with other immigrants, often become more liberal and secular, especially if they live in Europe. But that means that they may also drift into lives without solid ground under their feet.

When I was a young social science student in Norway, anthropology professor Arne Martin Klausen’s book ‘Kultur: variasjon og sammenheng’ (Culture: Variation and Interconnection) was compulsory reading. We liked the book, but feared exam questions from it, because little was categorical, everything was fluid and varied, like my text in this article. We learnt that many things are common and universal for all people across the globe; the foundations of all cultures are similar, yet, with variations. At the same time, some things change, like fashions do, but trends go deeper and last longer, and at the bottom of it all, there are certain things that don’t change much at all. That meant that we as students had to reflect and think deep, and we wouldn’t know in advance if our thoughts and reasoning were right or wrong. Well, to say ‘right or wrong’ would to be too categorical; we should learn to consider and understand, not judge.

Even today, after having travelled quite a bit and lived in other cultures in North America, Africa and Asia, with other traditions and customs than what I grew up with on the West Coast of Norway and in Oslo, with other religions, other economic situations, and so on, I am often struck by how much that is actually the same, all over the world. People’s thoughts about everyday issues, their worries and dreams, and more, are very similar everywhere. Indeed, there is something universally common about being a human being – which I wrote about, too, together with an Irish Catholic priest and anthropology professor in Kenya some thirty years ago. He had otherwise spent decades in one of the world’s outposts in the semi-desert Kenyan district of Turkana, a place which was barely fit for human life since the climate was so burning hot and rain so rare that there was hardly any grass for the goats and camels, and droughts struck, too. A couple of decades ago, they discovered oil in Turkana. However, the ordinary people are likely to stay poor; only the oil companies, and maybe the district and state, will get rich, and probably more corrupt, too, because opportunity can make the most decent and honest person dishonest, yes, even the nomads and fishermen on the lake, who know that people in that kind of environment, can only survive if there is collective responsibility and cooperation.

I have recently written about Pakistan’s impressive history as a host country for Afghan refugees for over forty years. I believe Pakistanis have generally had the right attitudes towards refugees. In Europe, they need to learn more about how to share with the newcomers, like the Pakistanis and Turkana people have done. In recent years, Syria has been a major sending country of refugees, and in the coming months and years, the crisis is again likely to escalate. Just this week, as I had began working on this weeks’ article, I was saddened to read in a Norwegian online newspaper that the country’s immigration authorities (UDI) had told the politicians that they thought Norway and Europe were not ready for another round of a high influx of refugees, like in 2015.

A few weeks ago, I listened to the retired Swedish bishop Caroline Krook, who spoke at ‘Helgmålsringning’, a short prayer service as the weekend begins, transmitted on TV. She was in a church in a populous immigrant suburb south of Stockholm, one of the melting pots in today’s Sweden, and, yes, it has challenges and difficulties. Krook reminded us that these suburbs had names after the old farms and they were quite remote places earlier. Today, the area has become a place with newcomers and inhabitants from the whole globe. The bishop wanted us to understand that it is the willingness and ability to change that make such communities become creative and vibrant, yes, against many odds over time, but also with unique human beings, traditions and customs. Life had to change; nobody could stay like the Swedish farms a hundred years ago; they could also not recreate the village life from Somalia and Syria. They could only build something new with ingredients from far and near; certainly not easy, yet, it represents the New Sweden, the New World – like America once was developed. And then, who says that old Sweden was so fantastic? It wasn’t. Who says that the new, multi-cultural communities can also not be good? Better than vertical Swedish or Somali class societies. The good people there will succeed if they respect each another and the indigenous Swedes, if they share traditions and customs, and if they realize that it is only they who can build the New World, their world.