Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Egocentric Thinking and Halloween 2018

Written by: on October 24, 2018

Egocentric thinking results from the unfortunate fact that humans do not naturally consider the rights and needs of others…We do not naturally recognize our egocentric assumptions, the egocentric way we use information, the egocentric way we interpret data, the source of our egocentric concepts and ideas, the implications of our egocentric thought.  We do not naturally recognize our self-serving perspective.[i]

–       Paul, Richard, and Linda Elder. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking – Concepts and Tools. 2014.

This week during youth group here at Huguenot Church we discussed the concept of “what is appropriate to wear” on Halloween.  It has become a unique talking point here in town as we get closer and closer to Halloween, and certainly isn’t a new topic to the New York Times[ii] and the USA Today[iii]. When polled, most of the Junior High students were going to dress up on Halloween as something “scary,” like the Bride of Frankenstein, or Jason from the Friday the Thirteenth series.  The Senior High students weren’t as into the fear concept of Halloween, more into the dress up part.  They either wanted to be something funny or dress up as a character from a show they enjoyed, almost turning Halloween night into a Comic-con type experience.

But how do we know when these costumes, intended to be either scary – or funny – cross the line?  In my mind, anything that is demeaning, disrespectful, and tasteless is out of bounds.  But how to base this in critical thinking?  Well, to best make these judgments we need to take into consideration the concept of egocentric thinking that is discussed in this week’s reading.

There is a member of our church who comes from India.  Her family celebrates Diwali and every year invites many of us over to learn and participate in the family observance.  It is an amazing time as there are candles, colors, and so much intercultural learning.  However, someone locally asked if they could borrow some of her “Indian dresses” and wear them on Halloween, going out to a party as a “Hindi Princess.”  This ended up infuriating the family from India (rightly so!) and demonstrated a lack of cultural and critical thinking on the part of the family that made this insensitive and poor ask.

Requesting to borrow “Indian dresses,” and thinking it would be a good idea, demonstrated this individuals egocentric thinking.  They were missing the critical step of considering the rights and needs of others.  The Halloween costume was not going to be worn in a respectful fashion, but because it was self-serving, the person making the request thought it was acceptable.  As I have tried to explain to the youth of the church its best to ask yourself before you get dressed up questions like these, does your costume:

  • Mock cultural or religions people or symbols?
  • Make an attempt to represent an entire culture or ethnicity?
  • Trivialize human suffering or oppression?
  • Portray anyone or anything negatively?
  • Please add to this list cohort!

If it does . . . you probably want to think of a different costume.

Another incident has happened recently regarding Halloween attire and egocentric thinking, this being when NBC News Anchor Megyn Kelly expressed confusion as to why the use of blackface in Halloween costumes is offensive.[iv] Her error was exacerbated when she tried to explain that it was ok to do this sort of thing when she was growing up.  This demonstrated an unfortunate lack of self-reflection.  Maybe she could learn a few things from Paul and Elder?  Maybe she could learn a few things from the kids in the church youth group?



[i] Paul, Richard, and Linda Elder. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking – Concepts and Tools. (Tomales: Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2014) 23

[ii] Michael Gonchar, “When Does a Halloween Costume Cross the Line?” The New York Times, October 27, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/27/learning/when-does-a-halloween-costume-cross-the-line.html  (accessed October 23, 2018).

[iii] Alia E. Dastigar, “Is it OK for a white kid to dress up as Moana for Halloween? And other cultural appropriation questions. “ The USA Today, October 23, 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/10/23/halloween-cultural-appropriation-questions/780479001/  (accessed October 23, 2018).

[iv] Erik Wemple, “Megyn Kelly in on-air apology: ‘I have never been a PC kind of person.’” Washington Post, October 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2018/10/24/megyn-kelly-in-on-air-apology-i-have-never-been-a-pc-kind-of-person/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d0a321ddfc4c (accessed October 24, 2018).

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

One response to “Egocentric Thinking and Halloween 2018”

  1. Jenn Burnett says:

    I really like the practical application of this post Jacob. Halloween can be such a great opportunity to talk about ethocentricsm and sociocentrism in really practical ways. It is also so true that things have changed significantly since we were young! One of the other useful questions to look at is how costumes are marketed differently to boys vs girls. My daughter was a bit outraged to see that the pirate costume for girls had a dress! She hasn’t hit the point yet where we can talk about the ridiculousness of the sexualisation of everything from nurses to cats in the ‘girl’ costume section. The other piece to consider within this critical thinking discussion is what we do with celebrations in other cultures that are unfamiliar. Never have I been so heavily criticised for celebrating Halloween than when I moved to Australia! I was told repeatedly how un-Christian it was! Like your member inviting people to learn about Diwali, I think their is room for us to learn to ‘wonder’ about other people’s traditions before we critique them.
    FYI This year I am dressing up as Elastigirl.

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