How would you respond to this question: “Which culture is best?”
Throughout our lives, we are influenced greatly by the cultural environment that we grow up in.
Our families, our peers, and members of our society, shape our cultural values and beliefs to a great
extent, and as a result, we are inclined to believe that our culture is the ideal way of life. It is from such
beliefs, that the concept of ethnocentrism arises. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to “judge other cultures
by the standards of one’s own culture rather than by the standards of that particular culture”(Cultural
Anthropology, P.25). Ethnocentric views lead many to believe that a specific culture may either be
superior or inferior in comparison to another. However, Franz Boas, who is known to be the founder of
North American cultural anthropology, introduced the concept of cultural relativism – “the view that
each culture must be understood in terms of the values and ideas of that culture and not be judged by
the standards of another” (Cultural Anthropology, P. 11).
If I was asked which culture is best, my response would support cultural relativism. No single
culture is better than the other. We all have different beliefs, ideals, customs and behaviours that define
a culture to be our own. In one culture, a concept as simple and ordinary as sleeping on a bed or using
toothpaste to brush one’s teeth, may seem foreign, and at times, unusual, to another culture across the
world. Such differences between cultures cannot be considered valid enough to deem one culture
superior to another.
Take for example, the differences in communication across various cultures. In Donna Jo
Napoli’s article Who’s Speech is Better?, she outlines the differences in language, and the various rules
we follow depending on the context. In her article, Donna mentio