While the usual definition of ethnocentrism is “the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group of culture”, a more accurate way to describe the term is “judging other groups as inferior to one’s own.”
Ken Barger from the Anthropology Department of Indiana University argues that everyone is ethnocentric and that “it cannot be avoided, nor can it be willed away by a positive or well-meaning attitude.” He notes that addressing deeper issues involved in ethnocentrism requires a more explicit definition of the term. In this case, ethnocentrism can be described as making false assumptions about the ways of others based on our own limited experience.
We are all raised adhering to certain customs and beliefs. However, it’s making assumptions about how others live or go about their lives that prompt false negative judgments. For instance, most Westerners put a value on industriousness that seeing someone else sitting around not doing work is perceived as “being lazy.”
Assuming something about the experience of others also triggers false positive attitudes. For example, those who work in an urban industrial society may think that those living in rural areas are blessed because they don’t experience the stress of modern society. While living in open spaces does alleviate stress, this doesn’t mean that those living in these kinds of places are immune to stress. For instance, there is a constant threat of starvation living in this kind of community as well as the inherent danger in operating machinery. So why are we ethnocentric and what are the pros and cons of being such?
List of Pros of Ethnocentrism
1. It drives individuals to have a strong national pride.
Good things can definitely come about when one loves their country or is proud of where they came from. A sense of national pride does help keep a nation united, which is what is needed especially in times of need. For example, love of country and the desire to uphold certain ideals drive men to serve in the army.
A passion for one’s country is what keep others going as well, especially if they’ve migrated to different country. They are not shy to let others know of the culture and tradition of their homeland. This kind of behavior is beneficial for others to understand the ways of those who grew up different from their own culture.
While a sense of national pride can be seen as a positive trait, often times it can get abused or used for all the wrong reasons – these will be discussed later on.
2. It creates a feeling of belonging.
Not everyone one of us have the capability of being happy while living alone – most of us crave the company of others.
Although wanting the company of those who share your own beliefs and culture produces a wonderful feeling because you all understand each other, it also breeds negative effects. For instance, not mingling with people from different cultures or at least getting to know them will not open your eyes to how different people can be.
3. It allows people to keep old traditions and practices alive.
We grow up following the traditions and practices of the culture we are a part of. However, this tends to fade away or get lost when different cultures are assimilated. For instance, a child from one culture brought up on going to church every Sunday may have different beliefs when they are exposed to other ideas. In a sense, this makes older members who still adhere to the old ways disappointed that the younger generation no longer appreciates their culture.
For some, not exposing young people to other ways may help preserve the old ways. While doing so may help, not allowing them to be part of something else will not broaden their perspectives.
List of Cons of Ethnocentrism
1. It drives us to make false assumptions regarding cultural differences.
As mentioned earlier, we are all ethnocentric. And this is made clearer when we use what is normal in our culture to make generalization about the customs and culture of other people. While we may make these generalizations without being aware that we are using our own culture as a gauge, doing so is way off base and leads us to misjudge other people. As such, ethnocentrism leads to cultural misinterpretation which may result in miscommunication between people.
2. It creates consequences within our own society and with others.
Even if we are from the same culture, there will be some of us who are more privileged than others. Those who have always lived in comfort may not find it easy to see the difficulties being faced by others, especially the minorities and the disadvantaged. But one good way of understanding is to think about how you would react when a concern of yours isn’t recognized, no matter how simple it may be.
Not being able to understand also creates problems in international relations. Ethnocentrism leads to the creation of conflicts as well as hindering conflict resolution just because we failed to understand the other.
Believing in one’s superiority creates extreme forms of ethnocentrism that result in serious social problems. Racism is one of the bigger problems being faced today and despite it being condemned the world over, we still see and hear it happen.
3. It can create a culture that is blinded by their own self-righteousness.
Trouble brews when people believe that their way is the only way. Having someone believe their views are totally or correct or morally superior is dangerous in itself; can you imagine what happens then if an entire population shares the same views?
Yes, ethnocentrism is considered a natural proclivity of human psychology is now a negative connotation. Making premature judgments of other people will always lead to misunderstandings. Our ethnocentric nature cannot be cured as it’s impossible for us to experience every life situation there is around the world. What we can do instead is be aware of our own biases and control them.