Potato, potato.. tomato, tomato. Who said driving on the left side of the road is the ‘wrong side’? It happens every day, all around the world. We find ourselves having conversations where one person believes their way of doing things is right or better than the other’s. A rude comment is thrown here, and that marks the spark of an exchange of fiery comments. This is the problem of ethnocentrism.
Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own culture is superior to another. For example, believing bathing once a day is the only right and best way to live. Body adornment is enacted in most cultures by the wearing of jewelry, several piercings like the eyelids, or belly button, tattoos, and the application of makeup; just to name a few. Most cultures tend to focus on beauty and body adornment as a way to heighten or accent beauty in both males and females. For some, body adornment can also be a social or political statement. Multiple ear piercings could be a way for a teenager to express his/her freedom or individuality or a way to express conformity within one’s peer group.
On the other hand, in another culture, say Tanzania or Zambia, body adornment may take on a more religious connotation. Traditionally, Orthodox Jews cannot be buried in a Hebrew cemetery if they have a tattoo, for instance. Gift giving traditionally in American and most cultures involves the giving of a gift and a written or verbal “thank you” from the receiver. In Turkey, however, when receiving a gift the receiver must deny the gift twice before accepting it and then a re-gifting is also necessary
As one source put it, “Society is a weaving together of individuals that share a common culture or sub-culture while culture is a set of values and beliefs.” What may be taught in one’s own culture as right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable may not be the same in another culture. It is important to be careful judging across cultures because you are judging other people according to your standards. If those people don’t happen to have your standards, you might judge them incorrectly.
How many times have you been in a group of people where someone makes a remark pertaining to a certain group of people, or culture that catches your attention? Remarks like those often go unnoticed, but they linger on your mind for a while after. We often won’t point them out in a group setting, but they may be hurtful comments if addressing one’s own culture.
It’s everywhere, including politics. The French for example have banned Islam women from wearing scarfs on their heads, yet that is an expression of their culture and their faith. People from our own culture can also annoy and offend us. While we do not feel bad if we are upset when someone from our own culture irks us, when the perpetrator is from another culture, we wonder if we have the right to be upset. Is it really fair to be angry with that person?
The truth is that that is the wrong question. Fair or not, it is human nature to react to other people’s behavior, responding positively or negatively. We all have certain opinions about people’s way of doing things, most of the time, not necessarily positive. The question lies in whether it is necessary to voice those opinions. It’s in the voicing of one’s opinion that the conflict and the fiery comments arise… which is quite unnecessary if you ask me. It’s okay to think a certain way about something, but when it comes to the more sensitive issues especially, be mindful of what you say and how you say it.
-Stephanie Mithika (2014)