Culture Is A Diverse Crucial Aspect
Culture is a diverse crucial aspect of society and is one of the most important foundations of Anthropology. Culture from an individual standpoint is one’s own way of life based on conscious and unconscious teachings passed down for generations within a society. To be specific, according to E. B. Tylor “culture, or civilization, taken in its broad, ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (qtd. in Welsh and Vivanco 11). Because of the ever-changing cultural diversity or as some call melting pot throughout the world especially in the United States, it is essential to know and understand the two ways of looking and reacting to outside cultures—ethnocentric and relative.
As I previously stated, culture is one’s way of life. Looking at an outside culture with a different set of beliefs, it is natural to feel uncomfortable and invaded because the differing culture suggests a different way of life and thus suggests that our way is wrong. This is because from an individual standpoint we believe that the correct and only way is ours. This is called ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the biased judgment of other cultures according to our own cultural norms and assumptions that our way of life is the right, better or superior way. For example, an ethnocentric Muslim would find non-Muslims absurd for eating pork because in their religion it is forbidden to eat pork as it states in the Quran. Another example is the Andean practice of eating guinea pigs which for Americans who views guinea pigs are pets would seem immoral and vile.
Although it is natural to feel uncomfortable about unfamiliar or foreign practices of other cultures, it is of utmost importance to keep an open mind in order to avoid bigotry and intolerance, and to coexist with other cultures peacefully. This is called cultural relativism.
Cultural relativism is the “view that no culture is superior to any other culture when comparing systems of morality, law, politics, etc. It’s the philosophical notion that all cultural beliefs are equally valid and that truth itself is relative, depending on the cultural environment” (Cultural Relativism – Illogical Standpoint). This means that there is no right or wrong culture or belief as everything is relative to the cultural environment. In trying to understand other cultures, one must view it in the perspective of someone who is in the culture itself without bias from one’s own cultural beliefs.
In the passage about the Nkisi idol, the first tenant which commented that the idol is “absolutely disgusting” is ethnocentric. He/she is giving a prejudiced negative reaction about the idol because it is not of his/her American culture to have such. He/she does not or refuses to understand the symbolic meaning of the idol that is to safeguard and aid the owner. Because of his/her ethnocentric mindset, he/she is judgmental and bigoted about the idol. Ethnocentrism is a wrong approach towards cultural diversity because it creates conflict and discrimination to outside cultures.
A relative view, however, is the second tenant’s who understands and respects the idol. He/she relates to the Congolese culture and views the idol as his/her American culture views the statues of Virgin Mary and crucifixes. His/her nonjudgmental view of the Nkisi idol is the right way to approach cultural diversity as it welcomes and tolerates practices no matter how different they may be.
In reading the passage and seeing the image of the idol, I understand the opinions of both tenants. The first tenant’s judgment about the idol may have come from the idol’s unhygienic and hazardous appearance. This is of course because of the rusty nails that cover the statue. In American culture, we tend to be sensitive about unsafe, hazardous matters. In my opinion, the Nkisi idol is a reasonable health concern, however, it is not acceptable to call it disgusting as it is a symbol of faith and of the Congolese student’s home. It is a particularly personal valuable to the Congolese and that should be respected, not scorned. I agree more with the second tenant’s reaction as the idol is only a different symbol of faith similar to the symbols we have in the American culture. The second tenant’s relative view promotes cultural diversity and peace between coexisting cultures. I believe that everyone must try to view the world the same way instead of being judgmental about unfamiliar beliefs, no matter how strange, that we do not understand.