Question: What is the value of making cross-cultural comparisons? (Miller, Pg#11: 1999)
Cultural anthropology encompasses all aspects of human beliefs, behaviors and ideas. What would the world be like without any knowledge of other cultures? Anthropologists study different cultures to be more understanding and accepting, more appreciative and to enrich our own culture.
What is the “real” problem with the Ku Klux Klan? Perhaps, if they took the time to understand the African-American and Jewish cultures, for example, they would be more accepting of the diversity. Hundreds of years of cultural imperialism has evolved into a legion of hate. Emic studies put the researcher in the middle of the culture, free to interact and discover a new life style. After a few months or even a year in a “different” culture, one has a better understanding of the lifestyle, and understanding leads to acceptance. Once people, especially powerful political leaders, learn cultural relativism war will be a practice of the past and only discussed in history classes.
Another reason for cross-cultural comparison is to make us more appreciative of our own culture and environment. For example, members of the Peace Corp volunteer months to years of their lives to live and help in third world countries. They may not be there with the purpose of studying culture, however, living among the people and having to adapt to their way of life gives them a first-hand experience of a third world life. Seeing the way life is without any luxuries make us realize how convenient our lives are. Plentiful amounts of food, clean water, stable shelter and adequate clothing are just a few of the many luxuries that our culture sees as essentials. Many volunteers return from the Peace Corp and adopt a new way of life; much less “extravagant” than the one they led before.
Finally, we study other cultures to enrich our own. Where would “Canadian culture” be without the influence of the French, Italian, Chinese, and all the other cultures that form the cultural mosaic that defines Canada? Without the mixture of cultures in our country, we would still be eating meat and potatoes for every meal. The cultural blend that has come together to make up “Canada,” but yet retain their own individualities, work together to make a hybrid culture created from the best of all that are combined.
In conclusion, we see that without cross-cultural comparisons life would be boring and monotonous. Learning about other cultures makes us more understanding, accepting, and appreciative of the diversity. No more war, no more racism and no more ethnic cleansing once ethnocentrism and cultural imperialism are abolished. Cultural diversity is the “spice” of life.