Somebody wrote the following question on Facebook today – ‘to what degree do I have to respect other cultures?’ and it got me thinking.
Since I work with diversity and intercultural competence, you would think my answer would be clear for me – a resounding ‘YES!’ but it’s actually not that straightforward. I think, in fact, the answer depends on what we mean by ‘respect’. If by respect, we mean to accept and acknowledge that other cultures exist within the boundaries of what seems good and right to them, then the answer is ‘yes!’ If disrespect comes from an ethocentric perspective, a sentiment of right/wrong, good/bad, then I don’t think that’s ok. The ethnocentric always thinks their way is best and that other perspectives, or world views, are in some way faulty. This borders on the racist. So how can we balance the acceptance of other cultures with the discomfort we experience when reading or witnessing actions that are unacceptable to us?
It’s not easy but I think that we should accept other cultures, and that we should genuinely repect there are many different ways to view and to be in this world. But, that in no way means that I have to like everything that others do, especially if it compromises what I value or what I perceive as ethical. Intercultural competence is about accepting differences but also about being authentic in your own cultural beliefs without being xenophobic.
So let’s not mix up respect and liking. In my mind, they’re two different things.
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