From Pakistan to America and beyond, we have just as much in common as differences – Cynthia Ritchie

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Cynthia Dawn Ritchie is an American freelance director, producer, and writer working on an international travel series. Currently partnering with multinationals on media projects, her work is done under: A Different Lens Productions, LLC, and non-profit Kultur, Inc., a California-based 501(c)(3), as well as on-location media partners. As a child, she aspired to be Indiana Jones – an archaeologist who seeks to unearth hidden treasures, while immersing himself into the cultures he studies. Cynthia possesses a Master’s Degree in Education and additional graduate-level training in clinical, behavioural psychology, conflict resolution and strategic public relations. A world traveler, she has lived in Australia, Japan, Pakistan.

Ritchie has been on a mission to present Pakistan to the world exactly as the 200 million inhabitants of the country have known it for seven decades. Pakistan is a fascinating kaleidoscope of culture and tradition-bound by the centuries-old cherishment of common values of hospitality, altruism and an esoteric celebration of family life. These are the things that Ritchie could relate to having been brought up in a traditional family from Louisiana.

 

“The more I learned, the less I realised I knew about Pakistan and neighbouring countries. The further I travelled, the more I saw how much we, as Americans, have in common with communities around the world,” says Ritchie.

As a child, Ritchie was fascinated by the magical appeal of the Egyptian civilisation and dreamed of visiting Egypt and studying its enthralling archaeology. In a way, her trip to Pakistan and her three-year stay there gave her the opportunity to fulfill her lifelong dream to immerse herself in the vibes of a foreign culture.

Bemused at the unmistakable dichotomy between the representation of Pakistan in the mainstream international media and what she witnessed first-hand, Ritchie decided to produce a documentary projecting the true image of Pakistan to the world.

With help from her friends in the US and Pakistan, she created her first documentary, ‘Emerging Faces: Exploring Pakistan’s Hidden Treasures’. It aims to enhance cross-cultural understanding and an enduring people-to-people contact between Pakistan and the western world.

In her recent feature “Uncovering Pakistan’s Hidden Jewels – Cynthia Ritchie’s Journey” she wrote:

“As an adventure traveler, I love taking paths lesser known. For me, the journey is more important than the destination.

To be immersed in a world of yellow and red fragrant masala spices piled into small mountainous displays along the food streets; seeing women wrapped in colourful panels of scarves and flowing tunics; me slowly picking out words of the regional languages, and watching a smile emerge from a local when we both realize we finally understand one another… to me, this is a fascinating life abroad. More specifically, this is another facet of life in Pakistan.

So why is this important? Why Pakistan? This isn’t only about Pakistan. It’s more about our global community and how we are seeing one another. We need a perception reality check.

Every day we are bombarded with evil acts, on TV and online – so much so that we now find it cathartic to balance our negative media exposure with clips of puppies and cats doing funny things and adorable babies laughing. And while I also enjoy these clips, I realized we run the risk of losing our humanity by not actually going out and exploring our world. We should be curious and concerned; we should be asking questions of others and their cultures and their faiths and why they do what they do; all of which means taking chances and thinking critically. It’s called experiential learning – and it’s an essential part of our well-rounded development as humans at the micro and macro levels.

If we don’t share positive human experiences as equally as we do the heinous crimes committed, I fear we will be become a self-fulfilling prophesy: imagining the world is a bad place, and all are bad people; so we stockpile guns, hide in our homes and await the apocalypse, because we’ve actually begun to think that some of us are superior to others. One side is ‘evil’ the other side is ‘good’, but both sides are determined to exterminate the other.

Remember the classic ‘Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes’ experiment conducted by teacher and activist, Jane Elliott.

In a classroom setting, Jane tells a group of children with blue eyes they are superior to the children with brown eyes, and the children begin behaving accordingly. After some time Jane switches the experiment, telling the children with brown eyes they are, in fact, superior. And only a small number of the children question Jane and her truthfulness at that point. In contemporary society, the media is Jane and the viewers are the children.

My grandmother used to say: there is a bad apple in every bunch, and there is a naughty child in every class. But do we throw away the entire bunch of fruit? Do we punish, discourage and constantly remind the whole class how naughty the child is? No. We separate the good from the bad, otherwise, the bad risks contaminating the good.

Attention is one of the greatest reinforcers. The vast majority of media is focusing on what a small percentage of dangerous people are doing. And while there is no doubt these dangerous individuals and groups should be neutralized, we also need a more balanced media to show some good. Otherwise, the media is reinforcing the dangerous behavior and, as viewers, we are complicit in this reinforcement by contributing to increased ratings.

So this is why I do what I do: there is beauty and inspiration in the world, and we (or at least I) need to go out into the world, to find it and be reminded of it.

From Pakistan to America and beyond, we have just as much in common as differences. There are challenges in every society and there are inspirational stories in every society.

Friends have called me the ‘female Indiana Jones’- and I suppose it’s because I love uncovering lesser-known facets of civilization: from ancient artifacts to new technologies developed by young entrepreneurs, to the girls and women who defy convention and the men and communities who support them.

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These are the positive stories of Pakistan I know, which is representative of a world I’d like to believe in. This doesn’t mean there aren’t serious challenges in the country- there are. But since there is already so much coverage of the negative, I’d like to share some of the hidden jewels of Pakistan- treasures that were there all along, they just need to be uncovered.”

 

 Through her travel documentaries, blog posts and speaking engagements around the world, Ritchie continues to draw people’s attention to the pressing need for looking beyond the popular news stories and to appreciate the desire to bring lasting peace and prosperity to the world. Her infectious positivity encourages us to engage in dialogue with people from different cultures. More so, it helps us develop a common understanding of the political and social ethos of our times, reaffirm our commitment to the universal values of love and magnanimity. This also generates a healthy debate for a consensual worldview characterised by mutual respect for our differences rather than by an imaginary clash of civilisations.

 

Cynthia participated in a variety of humanitarian projects in Pakistan, from flood relief and health care efforts to the reconstruction of high schools and women’s health clinics. Ritchie has said she finds much in common between Pakistan and her native American South, and she now hopes to produce media projects that promote positive relations between Americans and Pakistanis.

 

 

Photos & videos Authorised by Cynthia D Ritchie
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