It's been a while since I've posted anything in the RETHINK category, but I was inspired by this article on the differences in chilbirth between the United Kingdom and the United States. As much as I have come to appreciate midwives and the option of home birth, the point of this post is not to tout the British socialized health care system, which I know has significant problems. Nor do I wish to make the all-too-common mistake of assuming that an idea is better just because it's not American—or because it is European—an error which is just as dangerous as its opposite.

What strikes me as so vitally important, especially for Americans who, thanks to the size and historical self-sufficiency of our country, tend to have less contact with other cultures than most educated people, is the great benefit of listening to and exploring other people's views on topics that are so well-ingrained in our own lives we never question them. Ideas that are so much a part of us we imagine anyone who would think otherwise as uncultured, uncivilized, and ignorant: "They do such-and-such because they don't know any better. When they see our way they will know it is best." Most of us wouldn't actually say that, but it's a strong gut reaction. It's a good thing, then for all of us to encounter people who have equally deep-seated feelings that their ways, very different from ours, are superior. Whether we come away from the comparison with our minds changed, or more convinced than ever that we are right, we benefit from the encounter.

Not many people can learn this lesson by living in another culture, as Janet has. But the Internet can be a great eye-opener, and most of us probably have neighbors, co-workers, and church or school friends who would be happy to share a different cultural view.  Not to mention that getting married, even to someone from one's own culture, can be a surprising introduction to the thought that ideas, habits, and customs we take for granted are not necessarily universal. :)

Far be it from me to champion the inane and dangerous idea that all cultures and customs are equally valuable.  But I think most of us are much more likely to make the opposite error.  I preach to myself most of all.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 7:54 am | Edit
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