So first, today I was reading a long chapter by Milton Bennett called Towards Ethnorelativism: A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity. Bennett's model includes two major stages: the ethnocentric stages and the ethnorelative stages. Within the ethnocentric stages are Denial (isolation & separation), Defense (Denigration, Superiority, & Reversal), and Minimization (Physical Universalism & Transcendant Universalism). The ethnorelative stages are Acceptance (respect for behavioral difference & respect for value difference), Adaptation (empathy & pluralism), and Integration (contextual evaluation & constructive marginality).
It was interesting, I'll be honest, as I was reading through the section on ethnocentrism to see myself a little bit. Specifically, I know there have been times in the past when I probably had a sense of cultural superiority. I think it was innocent, and definitely before I had travelled! And I've also seen instances of Reversal - when a person turns around and thinks all other cultures are good and his/her own is bad.
But then I read the following paragraph:
"In a kind of abstract parallel to the concrete behavioral assumptions of physical universalism, transcendant universalism suggests that all human beings, whether they know it or not, are products of some single transcendent principle, law, or imperative. The obvious example of this view is any religion which holds that all people are creations of a particular supernatural entity or force. The statement, "We are all God's children," is indicative of this religious form of universalism, particularly when the "children" include people who don't subscribe to the same god."
I have been in a bit of shock most of the day after reading this, trying to grapple with it. I am a person of faith and grew up with that particular phrase. I never thought of that as indicative of ethnocentric behavior. On the one hand, it makes sense. Other people, other cultures, have different religions, different realities, different truths. But on the other hand... - I grew up a person of faith and that's where I'm at. I'm not sure what else to say here, though there are a lot of thoughts swirling around. I'm curious what response there is from all of you?
With that fresh in my mind I went off to class. One of the first things the professor did was attempt to give us a crash course in speaking Arabic! She spoke only in Arabic, with lots of gestures and pointing and trying to get us to understand and repeat words and phrases and learn. It was overwhelming. I felt lost, confused, a bit dumb - as did most of us in the class. If only these things were written down! I thought, then I could say them more easily.
As we were discussing the experience that idea came up. But then the professor related that to some of our reading about the Hmong who, until recently, were a pre-literate group. They had no written alphabet and no concept of reading and understanding those symbols. If a person isn't able to read, if they're illiterate, they can't use that extra assistance for learning. They can't write things down or take notes or see something visually.
And the realizations and connections kept rolling on. I did that huge project in one class last quarter about the literacy rates and education in Guatemala. I suddenly had a better understanding of what that meant. I especially remembered that literacy is defined differently in different places. In some areas, being literate is being able to write your name - and that's it!
It made me think of experiences on the bus, when someone is trying to get to a particular address. They know enough English to say the address or place they want to go. If the driver doesn't know where that is the person is in trouble. Sometimes I think the drivers don't realize that was all the English that person might have known. I can see the complete look of confusion as the driver goes off about other streets, other routes to take, where to find those routes, etc. And of course the person doesn't understand and asks the same question again. The communication breakdown is amazing.
Of course I keep thinking of this because of my approaching trip to Guatemala. When I went briefly last year I thought I knew enough Spanish to get along...but I had another thing coming! I was the person standing there, trying to figure out what was going on, realizing I had a very small vocabulary and I could not communicate. It's a scary and overwhelming place to be. And I'm taking myself back there in about 9 weeks!
I should sign off for now and go on to my readings for tomorrow, on business ethics. Oh joy!