My culture is better than yours and my way of doing things is the only correct way [yes most people tend to believe this]. Ethnocentrism is one of the first terms that I ever define to students when we study cultures. It is something that is normal for every culture and is something we all must try to overcome. Simply put, it means that we view our own culture as superior to other cultures.
It is only natural that when you are brought up in a society, that the things you were taught were proper behavior for everyone would have been deeply ingrained in your world view. If you were taught to make eye contact when you speak to someone, you will feel something is wrong with someone who averts their gaze. If you were taught to bow slightly in greeting, you will feel uncomfortable with someone reaching out to grasp your hand and to shake it.
If you have always stood 3 or more feet (1 meter) from people when you spoke face to face you will have felt very uncomfortable when someone moved to 1/3 that distance (30 cm) to speak to you. You unconsciously stepped backward to increase the distance until you were comfortably spaced. They also felt discomfort and stepped closer again. The sense of personal space is something that is different between cultures. In America we will only be close face to face if we are about to kiss someone or about to fight. People with a low distance of personal space, often feel Americans are unfriendly and withdrawn because they step back uncomfortably far. Likewise, Americans may get the feeling that people from these cultures are pushy, aggressive and uncomfortably familiar [remember we may be feeling that kissing or fighting is about to happen and we may not feel like doing either :-) ]
Also in American culture, men do not touch each other except in rare occasions and touching women is also strictly limited. Hollywood may give a different idea, but please remember movies everywhere can distort the reality of the culture. When I was very young traveling in Europe I went through Brindisi, Italy and saw many young men walking down the streets holding hands or their arms around each other. To me that meant open homosexuality, but these same young men would approach my girlfriend (now my wife) if I was not holding her hand. She and I quickly realized the difference of this culture. Later on when we worked with the Bushmen in Botswana we were swarmed by people all wanting to touch and hold hands or arms while we talked. At first I felt very strange surrounded by these little women holding on to us and even stroking our arms or hair. Very quickly we were able to set aside our own cultural habits and enjoy the warmth of these people.
What I am saying here is that there is no absolute right or wrong in culture. Every culture is valid for the people of that culture or it would no longer exist as a culture. An Anthropologist or anyone who wants to work successfully between different cultures must understand the concept of Cultural Relativism and fight against ethnocentrism. I may be able to show the bottom of my foot or let people see my left hand. You may be able to walk around in much less clothing than me, and still be properly dressed. Certain gestures that I am allowed to make could be very bad in your culture. We do not normally kiss on cheeks when greeting, but that may be the best type of greeting for you.
I spent several years trying to teach well over a thousand American and International Business students these concepts. We should embrace the differences and be understanding of other cultures. We should not care if someone else has a different name for God, or if they view God as being composed of several gods. They are human and our brothers and sisters. We should love humanity for the differences and treat everyone with the respect they are due. My major concern was that these young Americans may go abroad and be insensitive to other cultures which would cause them problems and make others have a bad opinion of America and Americans.
Culture is the means by which everyone learns to live and interact with others in their lives. It used to be enough to understand your own culture. Today the world is "smaller", as they say. Each country and the culture (or cultures) within it must interact with other countries and cultures. You members of English Club are the beginning of a new generation of a global economy with global interaction. We can no longer afford to let hatred or misunderstanding interfere with the advancement of humanity.
You will be the future of the world. You who learn English will be the bridge between cultures to help bring all of the competing groups and countries together for the better of mankind.
To do this we must put our own culture on a lower shelf so it is no longer central to everything we do. We do not abandon it, but we realize that there are many right ways to do things.
Next, and maybe harder, we must put our personal religious beliefs on a shelf where there is also room for tolerance of other people's religious beliefs. Picture this as a large shelf which can contain many things which are good. We must understand that other religions are also important to their believers and may be the best belief for those particular people. This may be hard for certain Christians who have been taught that there is ONE WAY to the grace of God and that is through Jesus. It will also be hard for many believers of Islam who have been taught that Islam is the only path. I have read the holy books and know that they all say many things that can be read by people in different ways. I like to believe that there would not be a God who would only favor one people and would be just as happy to see all others killed or converted. That is what I would like to believe.
But what I believe personally does not matter, because I have to place it carefully on a shelf where all other peoples beliefs can also be placed. I have to view this shelf as a shelf of good. It must be a shelf that is level and no part of it is above another. For me to operate as a human I must stay away from Ethnocentrism and my beliefs must be on the shelf with everyone else's. This is the way we can all communicate without mistrust and hatred. It is the only way I can exist. I have to believe for myself that every culture, every language, and every religion is equally good for the people that believe in them. I can still have my own private beliefs, but must realize that they are mine and not necessarily better just because they belong to me.
Please try to tolerate others who believe differently, and on this day, please remember all who died nine years ago and all of those who have died since then, without hatred or prejudice. Violence and war are not the answer to the differences of the world. Remember the terms "cultural relativism" and "ethnocentrism". Look them up and try to always keep them in mind.
PLEASE ---Love everyone and make the world better.