Do you believe your race, religion, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation is superior to others? Most people, if they’re being truthful, would have to say, “yes”. That feeling of superiority is called ethnocentrism.
We are all ethnocentric to some extent. We live our lives in the context of understanding who we are, but not understanding those different from us. Because it’s near impossible to comprehend that we don’t comprehend, we are trapped in what we know, unless we are willing to venture outside our comfort zone and entertain the thought that the culture of others may be different but not inferior to our own. Simply stated, we have to acknowledge that we have prejudices before we can take affirmative steps toward tolerance.
There are too many dissimilar cultures in this world to ever believe that there is only one right way to be. Nonetheless, we in the United States have a tendency to believe that our culture is better than other cultures. Some Islamic fundamentalists believe the same about their culture and religion. Some Christians believe there is only one way to heaven (or to be at one with God), while ignoring the many diverse religions throughout the world that preach much the same values and virtues as those of the Christian faith. Take ethnocentrism to its logical extreme and you have Nazi Germany slaughtering millions of innocent people, whether they be Jews, Catholics or homosexuals, just because they were different from the slaughterers.
As Shylock said to Antonio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” Despite our cultural differences and our ignorance of those differences, we are all human, deserving of human dignity. In this season of good will to all humankind, we ought to be mindful of our inherent ethnocentrism. Only then can we attempt to eradicate our prejudices, making our globe a safer place for all of us this time next year.
Image courtesy of: http://www.realcourage.org/category/cartoon-controversy/