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Being ethnocentric leads to making 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 pale version of our own culture. Ethnocentrism leads to cultural misinterpretation and distorts communication between human beings of different cultures.
We wind up making premature judgments.
It doesn't occur to us that "they" may not be very good at the very thing we are best at.
By evaluating "them" by what we are best at, we may miss those aspects of life that they handle more competently than we do.
We Americans 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 "backwards." Why not just say "from right to left" or "in the opposite direction from English."
I encouraged university students going on short-term missions trips to think or say the phrase "Oh, that's different" rather than using more negative and pejorative terms when encountering strange customs or foods.
The opposite and yet almost the same thing as 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. Thus, xenocentrism could be considered ethnocentrism in reverse.
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 attitudes and behavior rather than that of others.
We need to keep in mind the 2,000-year-old admonition of Jesus of Nazareth: "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)
For further understanding on recognizing and dealing with ethnocentrism and ethnocentric attitudes and behavior: Dog sled race illustrating ethnocentrism
Paul Hiebert on ethnocentrism
Well, a provincialism growing out of a monoculturalist worldview can cause you to fall into these traps:
"To understand one's culture is to appreciate its value. When you appreciate the value of someone else's culture, you set aside the presupposed superiority of your own culture." -- Adam Deckard, youth pastor
Dr. Seuss' Sneetches book is a delightful way of confronting prejudice based on in
cultural and ethnic differences
YouTube reading of "The Sneetches"
"Cultural differences should be celebrated, not ironed out." -- Christy Williams, Nazarene Bible College student
As globalization moves ahead, what can move us forward on the path toward cross-cultural awareness and understanding? To monitor their progress toward a destination, travelers in the U.S. often check the numbers on metal markers placed every mile along U.S. highways. For thousands of years, European travelers have depended on numbered "milestones" to mark progress toward their destination.
Cultural awareness is more than just realizing that another culture is different from ours. Good cultural awareness includes learning to value that other society and respecting its cultural boundaries. So, how do we get to that point?
Here are some milestones usually encountered in the journey toward authentic cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding:
Destination: Embracing the joy of multiculturalism and cross-cultural understanding
To invite people to make the journey to cross-cultural understanding is not asking them to embrace an uncritical relativism. Superficial cultural relativism trivializes differences and can even gloss over evil. For instance, an occasional misguided anthropologist has denounced attempts by others to get tribal groups to move away from cannibalism ("it is, after all their way")
As we consider whether to embark on this journey that will bridge cultural differences, we must not be deterred simply because some who have fervently preached "diversity" did so because they had hidden -- and not so hidden -- "agendas" to advance.
The road to cross-cultural understanding will not always be easy. There will be misunderstandings. There will be clashes of priorities and even deep differences of opinion. Those must not be allowed to lessen the delights awaiting us at the end of this path.
"One reason we learn about diversity is so we don't say something stupid and offend people" -- SNU freshman
One reality of life in Mexico is that waste water pipes are smaller than those used in the U.S. That means that Mexican plumbing systems are more susceptible to blockages than are U.S. systems. Therefore, most people in Mexico toss toilet paper in a trash can rather than flushing it.
After one short-term mission trip called Commission Unto Mexico for which I was the coordinator, a young female participant sent me this note:
-- Howard Culbertson
|Did you know there is more than one way to describe a lightbulb? What people call it depends on their point of view. [ more ]|
Cultural anthropology course resources: Cultural bingo icebreaker Bwanda Fusa game Cultural anthropology case studies Christianity and culture Culture shock Exam study guides Iceberg and concentric circles models of culture Light bulb illustration: What do you see? Missions and culture My own culture shock PowerPoint presentations used in class Reading reports Readings Can you survive coming home? Research paper topic suggestions