Respect Cultural Differences vs. Stages of Development

Respect Cultural Differences

Technological advances continue to shrink the world and bring disparate and far-apart cultures much closer together. Participation in today’s global society requires showing respect and understanding to members of all cultures even when they contradict one’s own culture. Cultural differences are inevitable; showing respect for those differences is imperative for successful intercultural relations.

  • Self-Awareness: Intercultural respect begins with the awareness that your culture is no more valuable or “correct” than any other. Being part of the majority culture in a given country does not change this; in fact, it only makes that awareness more important, since it may be even easier to see your culture as normal and dismiss or mock others for being strange. To show respect for any cultural differences you encounter, keep in mind that you see the world through a cultural “filter” that not everyone shares.
  • Education: Lack of understanding often plays a role in intercultural tension, so it’s important to educate yourself on other cultures to help minimize that tension. For example, a German doctor who deals primarily with patients from Peru is likely to find that his patients’ view of time is different from his own. He may place a high value on punctuality, while the patients see arriving after the appointment time as completely normal. Neither is right; they’re just different ways of dealing with time. Educate yourself on the cultures around you so that you’re prepared and equipped to deal with any disparities.
  • Engagement: It’s natural to gravitate toward those with whom you share a culture, but interacting with those from other cultures will broaden your worldview and help you show respect when cultural differences arise. Without being pushy or critical, ask questions and exchange views. Take an interest in what it means to be a member of another culture, being careful not to make unfair or insulting comparisons. For example, it is not uncommon for the parents of Chinese university students to choose their child’s area of study, but Western cultures may see this practice as controlling or even wrong. Instead of making judgments, talk to members of the other culture to understand the context of their decisions.
  • Flexibility: Be willing to defer and adapt to another culture when differences arise, as this is often the ultimate show of respect. For example, an American traveling in Palestine may be repeatedly offered cups of tea, food and myriad other forms of hospitality. In the United States, it’s often more polite to decline, with the goal of not inconveniencing your host. In other cultures, however, declining anything offered is considered disrespectful; on the other hand, it is often perfectly acceptable to take one sip of tea and leave the rest untouched. Deferring to another culture is in effect saying, “Let’s do things your way. I respect and value your way of life.”

Stages of Development

Social Scientists identify cultures as passing through four stages. These are the sometimes called the stages of cultural development.

  • The development and use of tools
  • The control and use of fire
  • The development of Agriculture
  • The development of a writing system

When cultures develop a writing system, we usually refer to the culture as a civilization. 

Some cultures, though very few, never progressed to later stages.  There were, and still are, a few societies that are “hunter-gatherer” cultures, which passed away with the development of agriculture.  People like Professor Jared Diamond argue, convincingly, that societies that remained hunting and gathering did so because of the geographic “hand that they were dealt,” not that they did not possess the intelligence to develop agriculture.  Some societies, developed agriculture, but did not develop a writing system.  No American Indian tribes of the present day United States ever developed a writing system before contact with Europeans.  In the video that we will watch, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Professor Jared Diamond will describe the cultural complexities that we need to understand about the development of writing systems.

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