For both my high school Sociology class and my Cultural Diversity class in college I had to read an article titled “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema.” If you’ve ever had to read the article then you probably know where I’m going with this. If you haven’t read the article, here’s a synopsis: the article tells of a people living in North America who spend so much of their day going through rituals to cleanse their bodies of its evil naturalness. They poke sticks with fur in their mouths, the women bake their heads in ovens, and they give elaborate gifts to medicine men who will tell them how they can make themselves even better, but in order to make themselves better they need to give elaborate gifts to another medicine man in order to receive the “treatments.”
The article is great and my synopsis seems very poor in comparison. However, this is a blog and I can’t write a 1,000+ word post. If you’re interested in reading the article, you can check it out here. However, I’m about to spoil the ending for you in the next paragraph.
If you read “Nacirema” backwards, it ends up spelling “American.” These people with strange practices are actually an advanced culture, shown through a lens of someone unfamiliar with their practices. And although American people differ from Europeans and other advanced cultures, there is an underlying similarity (and I’m sure we all brush out teeth, go to beauty salons, and see doctors about our ailments just so we can spend more money at the pharmacy for our prescriptions). So the article can pretty much stand for a diverse group of people.
So my question is: why are humans so critical of themselves? If we don’t like our hair coloring, we can change it! If we don’t like our eye coloring, we can get colored contacts! If we don’t like how pale we are, we can go tanning! If we don’t like something about our bodies, we can go get it changed by spending a ton of money! We were created a certain way, but for some reason we find the need to make ourselves even better.
It’s disturbing enough that we criticize ourselves, but I think it’s even more disturbing that we criticize others. We know how stressful it is to be human, so why do we feel the need to criticize others and make their lives even harder? It’s my personal opinion that people criticize others in order to feel better about themselves. “Well, I’m definitely doing better in my life than that person, so I suppose I’m not doing too poorly.”
I might be ashamed to admit it, but I’ll do it anyways: I’m guilty of these kinds of thoughts. I’ll belittle someone in order to make myself feel better. But you know what scares me even more than knowing that I am capable of having such thoughts? The knowledge that I’m not the only one having these thoughts and that it’s normal to hear people ridiculing others.
Maybe if we all took a step back and recognized that we’re all human and that we’re all trying our best, we would stop criticizing others so much. However, I believe that in order to do that, the first step is to recognize that we ourselves are doing our best. Maybe instead of focusing on the negatives and rather acknowledging that we really are trying our best, we can stop trying to make ourselves feel better by making others feel worse.
We’re all human. We’re all running the race of life. You know what the prize is at the end? Death. We’re all going to end up dying (I know, it’s morbid, but it’s true!) so, really, there is no reason for us to be trying to beat someone at the game of life. Instead of focusing on how to be better than someone else, we need to focus on being better than who we were the day before. Being the best that we can be is how we will win at life, not by making others feel bad about themselves so that we can feel better.
We’re all human. We are all running the race of life. The way that you win is not by beating others, but by being the best that you can be. So go out there and focus on being better than who you were yesterday rather than the people you encounter today.