Monday, January 8, 2018

Culture quote of the day: others are not failed attempts at being me (Wade Davis)

“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being YOU: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” – Wade Davis (emphasis added) (I credit my daughter with bringing this quote to my attention)

This quote captures something of the difference between an ethnocentric and an ethnorelative / global minset, in how we look at others.

When we are ethnocentric, i.e., centered in our own people (our own ethne), we are unaware that there are different ways of being human (as represented, for example, in the variations between being “individualist” vs. “collectivist” when it comes to how individuals are seen in relation to the group, being “monochronic” vs. “polychronic” when it comes to how we view and experience time and tasks, variations in group norms and customs, worldview, etc. – all the ways in which cultures differ). We lack both “self-awareness” and “other-awareness,” relate to others as if they were us, and inevitably judge them for ways they fall short (i.e., they don’t do things or see things rightly). We see them as “failed attempts at being me.”

Back to a Myers-Briggs example, as a strong “thinker” on the MBTI, for a long time I was frustrated with people who let feelings “get in the way” in a discussion (rather than “simply” focusing on “facts” or “truth”). It disturbed me when in a discussion, someone would become emotional or get their feelings hurt. Then I learned of the “thinker”/”feeler” distinction in MBTI terms, that these are two basically different ways (on a spectrum, of course, with a range of variation) of processing information and interacting with others, in terms of the way feelings are (or are not) involved. Becoming aware of this, I was able to begin to appreciate that different others were, well, different than me (and not to be measured against my way of experiencing life, but to be appreciated as the unique humans they are).

As we get to know different others as different (in any of the ways that they are different, and this works on an interpersonal as well as on an intercultural level) but equally human, we come to know ourselves more deeply as well, and we have a more multifaceted understanding of the reality that there are a range of unique manifestations of the human spirit. We see ourselves, our ways of being human, in the context of other ways of being human. This is what it means to have an ethnorelative (or global) mindset – we see our people (our ethnos) in the context of the spectrum of kalaidescope of peoples.

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