Culture Blends by Agar

Let me say first that I’ve never considered that a person really had mastered a language until he understood the culture and how the language grew out of that culture. The language is really a window to, and extension of, the language, not something separate in and of itself. That said, I detest the mentality that we must demean our own culture to appreciate others. Agar insinuates that culture is all relative and that there is no better or right way. He says we must get over the number-one mentality before we can appreciate someone else’s point of view. I disagree. Culture is not all together something arbitrary.

Culture to me is a collective identity comprised of our individual identities that are made up of our values, beliefs, and perceptions. Part of my identity is my belief and confidence in the American system of democracy, my belief that God established this nation that men might be free and that He still maintains this nation. That is my identity, my culture; it is not relative or arbitrary.

Does this mean I have no tolerance for other cultures? Does it mean I don’t or can’t really appreciate or understand other cultures? I don’t think so. I love the French; I love them for their savory cheese and delectable crepes. I’m fascinated by their architecture and I’m sure their wine is of the best kind. I think every culture has things that make them “number-one” in their own right. But cheese and wine are not part of my identity or culture as an American, democracy is. Thus I maintain the number-one mentality while still appreciating other societies’ number-one-ness as well. We should not abandon our heritage so quickly, especially when that heritage was a gift from God. America is number-one. We are the freest country in the world. There is a reason we don’t talk of French cheese when we talk of globalization but rather Big Mac’s. It is not just Americans who see American culture as number-one. People clamor to come to our country because they see something here that they don’t see anywhere else in the world. Is that something we should write off as arbitrary, something relative? I will not accept my culture to be arbitrary, relative, or subject to opinion and I don’t feel like that position is mutually exclusive with my ability to appreciate French or any other culture. I can agree to disagree without abandoning my position.

Agar argues that we must recognize our own culture as relative or arbitrary because if we don’t, supposedly we won’t ever truly understand another culture. Do I have to abandon my belief in God to understand someone else’s belief in Nirvana? Is God relative? So it is with culture: I’m proud of mine as should the French be of theirs.

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~ by Abraham on 25 January 2011.

4 Responses to “Culture Blends by Agar”

  1. Wow, this was a very interesting read. I think you raise some good points, some that we do not cover often in class. “Is God relative?” That probably goes back to the moral relativity issue, but I am with you. I do not think I have to abandon him to understand another religion. However, recognizing how lucky we are to have our nation, paradigm, and culture, I think we also have a responsibility to not be too judgmental, or come across condescending or arrogant. I think you have the right perspective, that we can and should appreciate other cultures, but since we can never just get rid of our paradigm, why pretend that we want to?

    At the same time, however, I do think that some of those French cheese’s deserve some spotlight. Maybe something I can incorporate into my own personal culture. I think that there is a lot we can learn from other cultures, but that does not mean we can only have one or the other.

    Thank you for this response! I really enjoyed it.

    • Rachel, you might check out Nephi Henry’s post that is currently on the main field studies blog page (http://byufieldstudies.wordpress.com/) under Sociology of Religion . He talks about different ideas of God and his process of trying to find “his” God while in India. Interesting stuff.

  2. You make an important point – one does not have to demean their own culture in order to appreciate another; this is no more helpful in examining our own way of life than it would be someone else’s. Rather than demean anyone or anything, we might simply attempt to identify and understand culture (our own and other’s) while suspending judgment. Working toward this certainly does not require us to abandon our beliefs or our identity, but it may require us to engage with them more deeply and honestly as we progress and encounter new things. My experience has been than an attitude of superiority makes it truly challenging to do this, it puts up the blinders and invites us into an inappropriate position of authority – God is no respecter of persons, how can we be qualified to be? This brings up some important questions for interpersonal and cross-cultural engagement: Can we be proud of our heritage without adopting an air of superiority? Can we genuinely understand someone else’s point of view if we hold an a priori belief that ours is superior? Can certain things be universal while others are not?

  3. I have also found that there is a somewhat difficult balance in having – let’s say; patriotism for your own country or culture while at the same time appreciating another culture without bias toward or even neglect for your own. But I agree that it is achievable. I also think that it can be somewhat hard to get the balance just right. Sometimes I do prefer the French culture over the American and sometimes I think that the French should get over themselves. Bless their hearts.

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