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 — 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

The perils of monoculturalism

So, what's wrong with being monocultural (that is, knowing only one culture)? A provincialism growing out of a monoculturalist worldview can cause you to fall into these traps:

1. A naive ethnocentrism
I judge everything using my own culture as the measuring rod without being consciously aware of what I'm doing.
2. Absolutist thinking
Insisting that things are not to be questioned: "It's my way or the highway"
An overly legalistic concern for maintaining form, precedents and established customs/dd>
3. An embracing of naive realism
"As we see things, that's the way they are."
Naive realism says that we can know things in the world directly without taking into account our own filtering processes. Naive realism is the view that when we perceive something, we have perceived it exactly as it is. It is believing that our perceptions of reality are not colored or mediated by anything else.
4. Lack of respect for other people's ways
"There's no one else here."
5. The evaluation of customs and perspectives on the basis of one's own culturally learned assumptions and values (worldview)
This grows out of the sense that one's views have been arrived at because they are superior to any other views.
6. The use of pejorative terms to describe customs different from one's own
This may even be done innocently simply because one hasn't thought through the baggage which those terms and phrases carry due to the way they were used in the past.

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Dr. Seuss' Sneetches book is a delightful way of confronting blind prejudice in terms of cultural and ethnic differences

YouTube reading of "The Sneetches"

     -- Howard Culbertson

"Cultural differences should be celebrated, not ironed out." -- Christy Williams, Nazarene Bible College student

     -- Howard Culbertson

How should we describe a lightbulb?

hereDid you know there is more than one way to describe a lightbulb? What people call it depends on their point of view. [ read more ]

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