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Why is ethnocentrism bad?

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Ethnocentrism leads us to make false assumptions about cultural differences.

We are ethnocentric when we use norms from our culture to make generalizations about other peoples' cultures and customs. Such generalizations &mdas; often made without a conscious awareness that we've used our culture as a universal yardstick — can be way off base and cause us to misjudge other peoples. In the end, thinking ethnocentrically reduces another culture's way of life to a version of our own culture. Ethnocentrism leads to cultural misinterpretation and distorts communication between human beings of different cultures.

Ethnocentric thinking causes us to make wrong assumptions about other people because . . .

We are led to make premature judgments.

"They" may not be very good at what we are best at.

By evaluating "them" by what we are best at, we miss the many other aspects of life that they often handle more competently than we do.

Some very simple examples of ethnocentric thinking. . .

We often talk about British drivers driving "on the wrong side" of the road. Why not just say "opposite side" or even "left hand side"?

We talk about written Hebrew as reading "backward." Why not just say "from right to left" or "in the opposite direction from English."

We encourage Southern Nazarene University students going on short-term missions to think or say the phrase "Oh, that's different" rather than more pejorative terms when encountering strange customs or foods.


The opposite of ethnocentrism is xenocentrism. Xenocentrism means preferring ideas and things from other cultures over ideas and things from your own culture. At the heart of xenocentrism is an assumption (conscious or unconscious) that other cultures are superior to your own.

One must be careful, of course, not to throw around charges of "ethnocentrism" to try to discredit people with whose views we disagree. The best use of an understanding of ethnocentrism is to use it to correct our own ethnocentric attitudes and behavior rather than that of others.

We would do well to keep in mind the 2,000-year-old admonition of Jesus of Nazareth when he asked, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

Here is a web page that can help us define, understand and deal with ethnocentrism and ethnocentric attitudes and behavior

     -- Howard Culbertson

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Cultural anthropology course resrources:    Cultural adjustment realities     Cultural bingo icebreaker    Bwanda Fusa game    Cultural anthropology case studies    Christianity and culture    Course home page    Steps to cross-cultural understanding    Culture shock   Exam study guides    Cultural anthropology FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions    Kwast's culture model    Light bulb illustration: What do you see?   Missions and culture    Monoculturalism    My own culture shock    PowerPoint presentations used in class     Reading reports    Readings    Can you survive coming home from cross-cultural immersion?    Research paper topic suggesteions

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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