I have been trying to write this post for about three weeks and I just can’t seem to order my thoughts.  I am still a little overwhelmed.   Recently my husband and I visited our son and daughter in law in Los Angeles.  We had an absolutely wonderful time.  However whilst there we exhibited some rather strange behaviour.

Usually when visiting a foreign culture you are aware that everything will be different and unusual.  The whole idea of travelling is to embrace the differences and to experience something new.  This is part of the wonder and the joy of travelling.

I am not sure what happened to us on this trip but we started playing the comparison game.  In Australia our coffee is better, our infrastructure is better, they don’t have pay pass, they don’t have kettles,  we can’t get a decent beer and on and on it went.  The roads were dirty, the homeless people were ‘more’ homeless, the fire engine sirens were louder and ‘more’ annoying, the beach was polluted etc…  I was flummoxed.  What in the world was happening?

As I began to research this phenomenon I realised that our ‘ethnocentrism’ was showing.  Don’t look now but we had become those unbearable tourists who spent the whole time whingeing.

What is Ethnocentrism?
“Ethnocentrism is the strongly held belief that there is only one correct way of doing things, of thinking, of seeing the world. Ethnocentrism is judging another culture based upon the values and standards set in one’s own culture. It is a form of bias, where we tend to immediately judge another culture as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ based upon their actions, if their values are not aligned with our own beliefs” (Buzzle).

I came across an article in Buzzle and read a paragraph that accurately described us – as in me and my husband.  It was like we were some Zoo Exhibit which read:

“Behold Lisa and Phil.  An example of ethnocentric behaviour.   Tourists who on a holiday judges the destination based upon his comparison with his native place. “Look how dirty this country is! They should just see MY country. No wonder this place is so underdeveloped and backward!” In this instance, the tourist developed a biased judgment of the destination based upon his opinion of his own country”.

Yep that was definitely us.  We had partitioned the social world we were encountering into us and them.

Interestingly another example of ethnocentric people was about America.

“The popular belief among American ethnocentric people is that their country, culture, values, development, and everything else is superior to every other nation in the world, and that every other nation is inferior to the United States. The present-day politics are a good example of the same. Here, the country as a whole can be considered as one group, or the in-group” (Source).

I began to ponder a few things:

1:  Had the recent tsunami of Trump and U.S. media news formed an unconscious bias in us? – Yes

2:  How did we shift so fast into a ‘us and them’ stance?  Something which goes against everything I believe.



Obviously we are all born into a culture and grow up ‘absorbing the values and behaviors of that culture which then develops into a worldview that considers our culture to be the ‘norm’ (source).


Australians have a preference to Australians

Greeks have a preference to Greeks

Muslims have a preference to Muslims

Most people have a local identity.  In Australia we have also been raised in a democratic nation with principles and values of  equal dignity and respect which is now accepted as a minimum standard throughout mainstream Western culture. Our understanding of democracy is bound up with the concept of moral equality:
“the belief that all people are of equal worth and are entitled to equal respect”.  Beth Lord
What I found fascinating in this experience was that even though our base line is moral equality it had not increased our solidarity to outsiders.  Our expectations and bias  had left us wide open to discrimination.  Hollywood was not so bright and shiny, it was dirty and there were homeless people lying on the stars on Hollywood Boulevard.   We had believed the movie screen depictions and the political bravado.  We were disappointed.
The homeless situation in Los Angeles was incredibly disturbing.  I struggled each day not to cry.  These are the statistics for December 2017.  “The yearly homeless count in Los Angeles County rose to 58,000 in 2017. Young people – aged 18-24 – are the fastest growing group of homeless people, up 64% (”  Tourists are shocked to find themselves stepping over people draped in filthy blankets and begging on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Shop owners routinely swill the pavements to wash away urine and the accompanying stench.
There was a powerful message on the building opposite our accommodation in down town L.A.  It was profoundly disturbing.  It was a beautiful art work of the Statue of Liberty and quoted the message that is written on the Statue of Liberty in New York.  It asked the question: Is there liberty for the homeless?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Our own Advance Australia Fare states:

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross We’ll toil with hearts and hands; To make this Commonwealth of ours Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share; With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair.

Yet we as a Nation struggle to acknowledge; our own first nations, the cultural diversity from where we have all come and acceptance for others of differing ethnicity who need our support and embrace.

When we feel uncomfortable or out of our depth, we take sides.   Us and Them.  This is a natural human response to nearly every situation.  In the school ground, in the community and across the globe.  What we don’t understand we mistrust, we push back or cut off.
Is this why in this time on earth we are so ready to build walls, to keep the outsider out?  What are we trying to protect?  What are we afraid of when families of other ethnicities move into our neighbourhood?  Why do we fear losing our patch of earth, our cultural identity?
A democratic society is built upon the premise that everyone is equal.  It only works if we can all live together.  If we cannot live together we need to be able to at least live side by side.
There is no question that there is a huge bite back at the questions of moral equality across western nations.  The white majority do not want to become a white minority in their own countries.  But we cannot go backwards.  We must strive to build a better future together.  We only thrive when we lead with our embrace.
Gay marriage can not be rolled back
The equality or races cannot be rolled back
Equality of men and women cannot be rolled back
Michael Grant  Ignatieff
When we become fearful we chose the safety of our own segregated groups.  We must remember that we are global citizens.  We must elevate community over economic freedom.
When we elevate economic man over citizenship we lose connection to place and to each other.
Michael Grant Ignatieff
Basic fairness is what keeps the democracy going.  The things that make democracy work are fairness, virtue’s and citizenship.  Diversity is people living side by side but not together.
Christians who follow Christ must believe in the ‘together’.  Embracing diversity is not enough.  We should and must also believe in Shalom.  The premise that every human being belongs and has a right to flourish.
It is every-bodies job to keep the edifice of democracy going every single day by being virtuous.  Our trip to L.A. was an example to me of how quickly one can fall back into protectionism or ethnocentrism.
Michael Ignatieff in his book ‘Ordinary Virtues’ asks this question.  What moral values do human beings hold in common? He examines the role of ‘ordinary virtues’ such as trust, forgiveness, courage and reconciliation in local contexts and settings in different nations across the world.  He has found that despite diversity and  cultural differences,  we can find common ground in moral virtues.  In the goodwill of our neighbours.

As Ignatieff notes: ‘the whole point of a liberal society is to create laws and institutions that make virtue ordinary. In a decent society, love should not require anyone to be a hero’ (195).


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Thanks for considering.

Love Lisa

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