Understanding other cultures without making judgments about
the way they do things or the way they understand and react
to things is the basic concept of cultural relativity. The
importance of this idea is demostrated by Richard B. Lee in
his story about the Christmas feast with the !Kung.
In this story Lee, a social anthropologist living with the
tribe, experiences a misunderstanding that almost caused him to pack his belongings and leave the bushmen which were the
subject of his study.
The basis of the misunderstanding centered around the idea
that after a year of using his supplies to gain leverage Lee would show his generousity by providing a large robust ox
for the Christmas feast. Generousity he expected, as a
westerner, to be greated by praise gratitude and general
appreciation. What he didn't realize was that praise was
not the way of the !Kung people.
For if you take an action in your own culture the reaction
is generally predictable, but if you take that same action
exercised in a different and unknown culture the reaction is entirely unknown leaving room for misunderstandings. And
The !Kung came to the conclusion that in order to thrive,
survive and keep the peace they must instill an air of
humility within each tribal member who is blessed with
success. This is to keep any individual from becoming
consumed by pride and arrogance which would make them feel
above the other members of the tribe and it's ways. They do this by insulting the man and painting his perceived success as a failure. This is their custom and it has allowed them
It is also that custom that made Lee feel shame for the ox
he bought because they told him that it was old, boney and
only good for soup. That is were the misunderstanding
Westerners feel that people should be grateful when they
receive gifts because of ingrained ideas like, reward what
you want repeated and treat others the way you...
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