On What Anthropology Can Teach Us


I have always admired anthropology more than any other social sciences. Built into its philosophical approach is the idea of studying a culture from within their society. The idea of freeing ourselves from the constraints of our personal notions and expectations – though difficult to do – is a noble ideal to aspire to. Joining a tribe to understand the significance of its customs, its view of nature,existence , the rights of maturity and how it defines its place in the world, without trying to change them, is such an important concept. All these things exhibit a respect for the ways others have organized their lives and is a counter balance from the imperialistic history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

From this perspective, anthropology is saying, you must put yourself in someone else’s point of reference, live in their “world”, if you hope to understand them. The concept of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, so to speak, is an important one because it also defines the best way to understand people in our own culture.

When trying to connect with friends, it’s always important to communicate with them, on some level, that we understand their problems, their emotions, their way of perceiving the world, by seeing things as they see them themselves. This approach gives us not only a greater intimacy into another person’s perspective but it also gives us greater ability to know who they are, why they are the way they are and it may also help us to help them when and if they need it. Finally, it may help us forgive them for things they may have done against us. If they are our friends, why wouldn’t we want to understand them from their point of view?

Taking on someone else’s reality is not about invading their privacy or trying to change them. I’m talking about a process which helps give a greater insight into why people make the choices they make, feel that certain issues in their lives may be insurmountable for them to overcome and why they do and say some of the things which can be hurtful to others and to us.

It is never easy to pull ourselves out of our world and take on someone else’s because we are not comfortable doing this. It’s far easier to view the world from our own vantage point, our own notions of reality and neurosis. If we are ever to obtain a more objective way to view our world or hope that others understand us from our perspective then we must try to put ourselves in someone else’s reality, simply to give us the versatility to be able to take ourselves out of our world and see things in ways that give us a more prismatic sense of what this existence we are all involved in, is all about.