If one looks attentively at the real world - and does not succumb to reductionism - the words "identical" and "homogeneous" refer to empty classes.

There are no homogeneous societies. Neither are there homogeneous cultures. Both are impossible as each human being is unique. Wherever one looks one finds but plurality and diversity.

All different - All equal

Democracies differ from other societies in that they are built on the constitutional principle that all citizens - whatever their differences - are equal before the law. The notion of human rights widens the circle to include all human beings.

"All different, All equal" - the motto of a recent campaign of the Council of Europe - is shared by many, but certainly not by all.

Processes of opinion formation do not abide by the law. Nor do they follow logic.


Learning is a bodily process taking place while the brain transforms incoming and self-generated stimuli as the individual interacts with his surroundings. Experiences of human beings and their learning histories are unique.

Human beings learn incidentally and intentionally. A large part of what we learn is developed as we experience this that and the other in everyday life. Most of what can be labelled social and cultural knowledge - including language - is learned by experiencing the behaviour of other human beings.

Much of the knowledge individuals draw upon to interpret their experiences develops in this fashion. Similar unique experiences - given the way the brain works - tend to interweave into tendentially dominant patterns. Despite that fact dissonances can still appear since we have a multitude of divergent experiences.

The other side of the coin is that what we have not experienced (including such virtual experiences as TV or reading) or developed ourselves is not available to us for recombination.


The pivotal competence for living in a democracy is to accept that other people are different - behave differently and have different values - without at the same time excluding them from the "we".

It is a competence that has to be systematically developed - just like correct spelling or doing mathematics.

But how ?

A special effort is needed

It is a competence that is certainly more difficult to promote than correct spelling - after all, most of the texts people read are spelt correctly.

But - in real life - accepting the different as equal is far more important than correct spelling.

Any ideas are welcome ! Write to: difference@vienna-thinktank.at


All major activities of the "Vienna Think-Tank" are - in addition to their specific goals - also aiming at overcoming any kind of exclusion argued on grounds other than those based directly on the unique individual case.

Explaining language and culture - in terms of uniqueness

Trying to base a new synthesis in thinking about thinking, language and culture on the uniqueness of every human individual, every human experience, and every human act aims - in addition to its intrinsic goal - also at removing the bases for reification of language and culture.

If cultures are reified than what you get is "our culture" and "their culture". Given those constructs, it is extremely easy to exclude persons coming from another culture from the "we" by assigning them to "their culture", even if they live in the same house as you.

If cultures are conceived of as processes and human beings as social carriers of cultures who behave at any given moment according to one or the other variety of cultural behaviours which they have acquired over their life-time people who live where you live can no longer be interpreted as part and parcel of "that other culture" - they have become also part of yours.

Even if we succeed to develop such an explanatory scheme - which seems likely - it will produce effects relating to the acceptance of others only in the long run.

But putting all people qualified as "the others" - or all human beings which share one characteristic, one affiliation or allegiance - into one bag and assigning the same positive or negative qualities to all of them will have become a little more difficult.

Language learning - and the acceptance of others

Learning additional languages is learning about other cultures, is learning about ways in which other people live, think and deal with their respective worlds. Teaching languages, thus, has a unique potential to promote understanding of and respect for others - individuals and cultures. As far as target languages and cultures are concerned this objective is by and large attained.

Since in learning a language one learns to know, to accept, and to value ways of thinking and acting of others, language learners could also acquire - in one and the same process - a world view in which being different is accepted as the normal way of being. This specific potential of language teaching remains largely untapped.

The Adult Education Academy Brigittenau, which hosts the Vienna Think-Tank, offers courses in more than 60 languages. Sequences, modules, and materials with a potential for acquiring this key social competence and for developing the related thinking habits can, therefore, also be tested on the spot.

We are looking for partners in developing that untapped potential! Write to: lingua@vienna-thinktank.at