Challenging Ethnocentrism

We are in the midst of one of the most divisive and harsh presidential campaigns possible with the choices being terribly bleak--truly a case where neither could be considered even the "lesser of two evils". Much of the rhetoric and motivation is based on fear and ethnocentrism. We are also experiencing the explosion caused by the deep wounds of racism in our country. Answers seem to be elusive, at best. The future looks bleak. And where are the voices of those who speak of love, peace and the freedom from fear?

As an Intercultural Trainer and a Christian, I am especially disturbed by the harshness of the attitude towards people of different nationalities, skin color or cultural expressions than ours. Erroneous, negative conclusions are drawn about anything "different" than our own cultural norms. There are many contributing factors, of course, but the underlying cause is ethnocentrism--the belief that my cultural or personal ways are "normal" and therefore, preferable. Ethnocentrism is ALWAYS wrong. It is definitely sinful.

In teaching how to appreciate difference as I trained people to work and live in another culture, I had to confront this inherent ethnocentrism that is found in every culture--but is especially evident in our "white, anglo-saxon, protestant American" response. Because I am a member of this group, I'm speaking to myself and my own culture. I grieve that this is the case.

In Cross-Cultural Theory, we learn of a pervasive response that is found when confronting another culture called, "Attribution Theory". This means that when we encounter someone from a culture different from ours, we attribute the actions or responses of a few to the whole. For instance, if you are in Paris and you are treated rudely by a waiter, we tend to attribute rudeness to the whole of the culture and declare, when we return home, "All French waiters are rude"--or, even worse, "All the French are rude." On the contrary, when we encounter a rude waiter in our own country (and race), we say, "That waiter was certainly rude."  

I read of such attribution happening daily in our media. Whether we are talking about Islam, black men or policemen (for example), we attribute the actions of a few to the general populace. This goes beyond mere stereotyping (which can be positive or negative), it creates the justification to make policies, give speeches that promote fear, and even vote for candidates in order to underscore our ethnocentric, sinful attitudes.

God calls us to a very different response. He broke down the ethnocentric divisions by 1) creating all mankind in His image (Gen. 1:27); calling all ethnic groups into His Kingdom (Gal. 3:28; Rev.5:9-10); 3) commanding us to love even our enemies (Luke 6:27); 4) setting the rule of love for others as the standard for His children (1 Cor. 13); and 5) challenged us to think only on those things that are lovely, commendable, and excellent (Phil. 4:8). This is only a sampling of how God expects us to treat others and doesn't allow for either the attribution of characteristics nor ethnocentrism!

I honestly don't know how to bring this blog to a conclusion. I'm deeply disturbed by what I see in our culture, and yet I refuse to live in fear or despair. Somehow we must each choose to make a difference and treat others as we wish to be treated (Matt. 7:12). . . and love them as God loves each of us. May we each, personally, work to destroy ethnocentrism wherever it be found. For the sake of our country. . . and our world. For the sake of ourselves and our children. But, mostly, for God's sake and to His glory.