What do we have to learn through the study of different cultures? I was hoping for some wonderful revelation in the collection of writings. I may have found one. This book was a difficult read for me. I am not sure whether it’s my age or my inexperience with classical readings. I also found it difficult to formulate a report on a collection of readings, the last report I did was on Laura Ingall’s Little House on the Prairie. This reading was a little more challenging. The main point that seemed to jump out at me is that perceptions change, our theory of reality changes with every viewpoint. Every culture can seem primitive, self destructive, nonsensical, immoral or just wrong, depending on who is doing the observation and what perspective they are observing from.
In the first reading, Narcirema, points very clearly to the fact that our own culture could seem very odd, irrational, and ritualistic to an outsider. But aren’t we all outsiders to everyone else? Don’t we see ourselves as “normal” and everyone else as “abnormal”? I think it is human nature more than ethnocentrism. My daily rituals would seem very irrational to another woman of my age in different circumstances. That’s where the saying comes from that you don’t really know a person till you walk a mile in their shoes.
The second reading of “Queer Customs” gets right to my point that culture is an abstraction; therefore each person doing the viewing views it differently. Culture is pointed out as being a “way of thinking, feeling, and believing” and since I have never met anyone who thought exactly the way I did about everything, one would have to conclude that we each have our own culture and our own views of other cultures.
I wasn’t really sure that the next reading really fit in with the others in the book. Rapport-talk versus Report-talk seemed insignificant to the other passages. It is a well-known fact, in all walks of life that men and women of any race, creed, or culture are different and that we have different and sometimes contrasting ways of communicating with each other. I was surprised to find this seemingly simple theory in this book. Yet again back to my question; am I getting the intended message from the author?
The Christmas Ox story made so much more sense to me and had great importance when I read the passage on Potlach....
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...tely cause the demise of the entire culture. Sharp’s and Bodley’s detailed description of simple “helpful” actions that have generational, historical implications are dramatic and still, and maybe even more so, relevant to modern cultural diffusion. We don’t often think critically about our efforts to “help” others. We just dive in and “fix things”, this seems to come with the thinking that “we know better than they do”. This is a common problem in today’s governments around the world. This is the result of ethnocentrism.
This book has certainly taught me one thing. American culture is very ethnocentric. Ours is one that is a “nightmare” to navigate the good and the bad because there are so many double standards. I think this speaks to the very core of contention among Americans these days. Very few of our leaders do what is right, and each of us has our own definition of right. Maybe if more people could really walk outside of their own daily rituals, beliefs, habits and commandments, and truly look at human kind without a superiority gauge, then the world would be a better place with less war, less suffering, less judgment and more peace, happiness, success, and creativity.
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