Ethnocentrism is an important concept that helps to shape the way people view the world. Specifically, ethnocentrism is act of viewing another culture through the context of one’s own culture. The values that one holds because they are his own inform and shape the way he views another culture. This might mean believing that one’s own religion is the gold standard for religion, and using that as a barometer by which all other religions are judged.
This is an issue that tends to emanate from the Western world. Some people believe that other cultures are inferior, but ethnocentrism does not have to have this element of supremacy. Rather, it can, at times, be something that has elements of difference. A person practicing ethnocentrism simply has his own culture in mind, and keeps it at the front of his mind, when he makes judgments about other countries and cultures. “Pather Panchali” is an Indian film that provides some insights into Indian culture, and watching that film can cut through the ethnocentrism that is often so prevalent for those in the West.
There were many things that I felt as I watched this movie. I recognized that my ideas about Indian culture were superficial. One of the things that ethnocentrism can do is simplify the lifestyles and beliefs of other people. Rather than taking a robust, nuanced view of other cultures, people can tend to look at other cultures in a simple, one-off way. This is easy to do because ethnocentrism allows one to digest empty caricatures of other cultures. Just as one tends to believe that his own culture is dynamic and variable, one can also believe that other cultures are less nuanced. I recognized while watching this film that many of the pictures I had been presented of India have to do with major cities like Mumbai. I had not often been presented pictures and images of places outside of the major centers.
With this in mind, I found it odd how little I knew about the traditional, rural life of people living in India. One of the things that this film does best is provide a picture of how and why pastoral life in India is so favored. Many of the people in India enjoy a slower life that is defined much more by the principles around them. I had never been exposed to this, largely because I tend to view their culture through the lens of my own culture. Even my understanding of rural life was sustained by my knowledge of rural culture in America. I found myself comparing the ways that the people lived in this film to the ways that people live rurally in the United States. This caused me to have much less of an understanding of Indian culture before, and it hit me with a shock when I viewed this particular film. I was struck that I had never considered the various ways in which family, religion, and other cultural factors tend to power the ideas and practices of people in India.
Ethnocentrism is natural. People tend to frame everything in terms they can understand. This is especially true when things are foreign. Ethnocentrism is a means of understanding a culture, but it can sometimes make things more simple than they need to be. Cultures are variable and dynamic. They have many moving parts, and the people who are a part of those cultures tend to have a wide range of different emotions. This film demonstrated to me that I often look at other cultures through the simple frame of my own, which can cause me to understand people in ways that are less than full.