ETHNOCENTRISM – We all do it…

By Fareeha Usman, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Manager, Dynamo North East. 

Ethnocentrism is a belief that one’s ethnicity or culture is superior to another. Ethnocentric people judge and compare others from their own cultural perspective and assume that they are better than others for reasons based solely on their religious and cultural heritage. Judging other groups as inferior to one’s own is a practice that no one should practice but everyone does or has done at some points in their life.

The big question here is “Why”? Why does it happen? Why do we become ethnocentric? To answer this – ethnocentrism can be defined as drawing inaccurate hypotheses about others’ ways based on our own bounded experiences. We make assumptions because we are not even aware that we are being ethnocentric… we don’t understand that we don’t understand.

During the time of global citizenship, it is immature to think that cultural insensitivity will not take place. People do not accept differences immediately. One of the most important causes of conflicts in a diverse society is that we want to see everybody as ourselves. We call those who are not like us “the other” all the time and we expect that if “the other” person does not share the same values, beliefs, and heritage they are somehow the villain.

Understandably, we may not always agree with people. When we interact with people from other ethnic backgrounds, we must keep in mind that respecting their different cultural values, beliefs, and practices should be our priority. We must understand that they were born in a completely different place, they have had a completely different life, they have faced pain, and they have coped up with problems on their own terms and in their own ways. When we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we are less likely to interpret our differences as bizarre, offensive, or defective.

There will be times when our own values conflict with the cultural patterns of people. Cultural Intelligence does not ask us to reject our own cultural values or to support the practices or views of other cultures. Cultural Intelligence promotes non-judgmental respect for diversity. This improves our communications—when people feel respected, they are more likely to reciprocate the positive attitude with pro-social behavior and you are more likely to build a better relationship.

Conflict is natural. If we put two people from two different parts of the world in the same room and ask them to talk on a topic, they are likely to argue and that argument might even result in frustration or a brawl. In a situation like this, thinking that the individuals would have utmost respect and tolerance for each other is quite unrealistic.

We need to negate the idea of anticipating that everyone has to fit our requirement of normal. What is good for you may contrast with what is good for somebody else. What is correct for you may be incorrect for someone else. Then, we hear some voices around us that “I think this is wrong, what is right can be…”, “But are you a criterion? Who selected you as a spokesperson?” Such conversations can cause suffering. So, civility is the ultimate solution to this problem.

Now, what is civility?

Civility comes as the answer, the midway approach while dealing with people, their views, and beliefs. It is when we deal with people with politeness and respect despite the difference in opinions. It involves showing positive regard for others, disagreeing without demonizing, and hearing diverse opinions without attacking.

This approach makes us more expansive in our thinking and it also promotes reflection and empathy. This is the only way to build a more empathetic society that thinks from a wider angle. Our way/opinion of doing something is not the only way/opinion or the best after all!

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Watch the third episode of the 6 month series around Dynamo’s EDI action plan presented by Fareeha Usman on the Dynamo YouTube channel

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