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A Cultural Story

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Different behaviors, traditions, andexpectations can often result in misunderstandingsbetween people of different cultures. Learningto look at things from a point of view differentfrom your own, and not making valuejudgments based on your beliefs and norms, iscalled cultural relativism. Having mutualrespect and understanding for other cultures issometimes more effective than moderntechnology and money in producing changeand good-will between nations.Cultural relativism is illustrated in thetrue story of a young Peace Corps volunteerwho was sent to a remote village to help builda well. The stream that was near the villagewas used for everything from watering goats tobathing to washing clothes to cooking anddrinking. It was obvious that clean drinkingwater would benefit the village and improvehealth. Armed with plans, equipment, andbudget and schedule, the hopeful volunteerarrived ready to begin.At first, the village people were not verywilling to help. After several weeks of lonelyeffort the volunteer met with the council to askwhy nobody was helping her with this urgentproject. “A well would be nice,” the peopleagreed, “but what we really need is a goodsoccer field where we can play without gettinghurt on the stones and uneven ground.” So thevolunteer agreed that some of the money andequipment could be used to build a goodsoccer field first.After several weeks of effort, the soccerfield was complete and a village soccer teamwas formed. Now work was able to start on thewell, but once again the villagers seemedreluctant to help. Another council meeting washeld and the volunteer was told, “Ah yes, thewell would be nice, but what we really need isa bridge across the stream so other villages caneasily come to play soccer on our field.” Sinceshe couldn’t dig the well alone, the volunteeragreed that some more time and money wouldbe used to build a bridge. Unfortunately, thebridge proved to be more difficult thanexpected, and by the time it was complete, thebudget and schedule were both used up.The volunteer went back to the capital,disappointed and resentful that she had notbeen able to improve the village. Some weekslater, she was invited back by the villagers fora festival to celebrate the success of the soccertournament they had arranged. When shearrived she was astonished to find a new wellin the very center of the village. She asked thevillage elders for an explanation.“The soccer tournament is important tous,” she was told, “because it gives us prideand importance and gives us a reason to meetwith the people of the other villages. We reallynever wanted a well.”“Then why did you build it?” she asked.“We didn’t build it because we wanted it,”was the answer. “We built it because YOUwanted


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