The answer to ethnocentrism is to grow our understanding about the assumptions and values of another human being. Do that with mutual respect and you have hope of finding spiritual harmony.

Category: Blog

Seeing the World Differently

By: Tuvya Zaretsky

We all tend to judge other cultures as inferior to our own assumptions and core values.  The answer to ethnocentrism is to grow our understanding about the assumptions and values of another human being. Do that with mutual respect  and you have hope of finding spiritual harmony.

Imagine someone whose culture is to drink coffee every morning. In her mind, “my morning cuppa” is a hot mug of caffeinated, roasted beans, ground up and brewed so fine.  She visits a friend, who offers “a cuppa” then brews up a strong pot of fragrant Earl Grey tea. When offered the pot and cup the coffee lover exclaims, “That’s terrible! I can’t drink that.”

One assumes that the only “cuppa” out there is coffee. The host doesn’t realize her gift of piping hot aromatic tea isn’t the same source of morning joy for others that it is for her. Personal preferences about what we drink, as a caffeine source in the AM, is an acquired preference of culture. Thinking it’s boorish to drink anything else would be ethnocentric.

Cultural anthropologists describe ethnocentrism as the perspective that one’s own culture is civilized and others are primitive or backward. Paul Hiebert said, “This response has to do with attitudes, not with understandings.” Ethnocentric attitudes are based on unexamined assumptions – That is our own. The solution to such attitudes begins with respect for the culture of others and self-reflection about our own cultural values. And where you have differences about religious practices or spiritual values, like celebrating Passover or Easter, take time to listen, learn and to discover the assumptions and core values of your partner. You might discover that spiritual harmony is just your cuppa!