Cultural Intelligence and Cultural Competency
Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism
In contrast, cultural relativism is understanding a culture on its own terms. From a culturally relativist lens, judging a culture by the standards of another is objectionable. It seems reasonable to evaluate a person’s values, beliefs, and practices from their own cultural standards rather than to judge against the criteria of another (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2012). Learning to receive cultural differences from a place of empathy and understanding serves as a foundation for living together despite variances. Like many aspects of human civilization, culture is not absolute but relative suggesting values, beliefs, and practices are only standards of living as long as people accept and live by them (Boas, 1887). Developing knowledge about cultures and cultural groups different from our own allows us to view and consider others from their cultural lens.
Countless anecdotal stories from various parts of the U.S. reveal that people speaking a language other than English have been shouted at to "speak English here!" Consider an even more controversial issue such as female circumcision or female genital mutilation. From a culturally relativist lens, female circumcision is a rite of passage in some cultures and confers a sense of identity and participation in one's community, as described in a biographical account, Aman, by a Somali woman. However, this Somali woman would view a Westerner referring to this cultural practice as female genital mutilation as ethnocentric. This example reveals how challenging it can be to consider different cultural practices that may be in conflict with one's own values. Still, the tool of cultural relativism is an important one that students of sociology can consider when developing a deeper understanding of ethnicity.