One of the topics I was always fascinated by in high school was ethnocentrism. In short, ethnocentrism is judging other cultures by the values of your own culture. The stereotypical, ugly example I frequently come up with is people in the US criticizing migrant workers for not having well-developed English speaking skills (or American, as some of the more delightful ones put it).
A less toxic example is that of WWII. For the US, WWII didn’t really ‘start’ until the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though in Europe it’s broadly considered to have started with the invasion of Poland (and to a lesser extent the Winter War between Finland and the USSR).
That said, there aren’t always weighty issues that crop up in this self-centered approach. I had a funny one happen to me when I was delivering papers as a carrier in North Carolina.
So, I had about five neighborhoods I delivered to as a paper carrier, traveling roughly west to east through town. I frequently ran into a particular Mail carrier from the USPS in neighborhood Four on my route, and he would stop and buy a paper from me when we met up. This went on all six months, and we got to know eachother fairly well, he was a nice guy.
Well, one day I saw a mail truck in neighborhood two, and decided I’d stop early and give him his paper. But there was someone completely different in the vehicle! It was only then that I realized that the Mail carrier probably wouldn’t share my route – he’d have one of his own.
This isn’t precisely ethnocentrism, of course – I wasn’t making a value judgment, just assuming that since I traveled this route every day (A) that this newspaper guy I saw every day (B) must share my route (C). If A and B then C…but nope! I’d made a pretty silly mistake there.
What it illustrates to me is that ethnocentrism (like other egotistical displays) is largely unconscious. It’s a natural process in some ways – the ingroup/outgroup mode of thinking that comes naturally to humans. That doesn’t make it right of course. If anything, it’s a call to be more observant.
If I can make this basically flawed an assumption about one thing, Ic an make it about others. That’s why it’s so important to constantly self-criticise, to self-examine, about heavier issues. We might think that oh, I’m conscious of the important issues, so there’s less to think about, but that’s entirely wrong. We are reflexive creatures, and if we don’t examine our attitudes to determine which are reflex and which are actually founded in rational basis, we will end up getting a whole lot wrong, possibly about something that could hurt somebody.