Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cultural Mindsets

One of the obstacles to overcome in relating to people here is the idea of the Eastern vs. Western mind. I would say that there is a lot of truth to the fact that there are differences to be aware of and seek to assimilate to, but, as I was discussing with a friend last week, oftentimes it is frustrating to have people brush you off or think that a conversation has irreconcilable differences that are impossible to overcome because of this.

Even my aversion to this, however, suggests my western mindset. We are encouraged to "think outside the box". This is typically discouraged in the typical Eastern-functioning community. I often separate cultural expectations from an actual method of thinking...but many people here do not.

Some of the differences:

-Family. To use an example you will probably tire of hearing of....I was watching a CNN Asia reporter interview Taiwanese star Jay Chou. She asked him why he still lived with his mother at the age of 29. He explained that he would take care of her, and intended to always live with her, even after he married. The reporter laughed in his face and said, "You're joking." He just looked at her and explained that it was a difference between Western and Chinese culture...that Westerners were eager to assert their independence, while Chinese children have a deep understanding of the duty they have to their parents to care for them. This is very true. While young people may rebel inwardly (and very rarely, by questioning) it is very rare to see cases of outright rebellion against one's authority figures. One's family as an example of one's community, hold a very important place in life.

-Schooling. A lot of the mindset in schooling is indicative of ideas that carry over into every realm of life. Schooling, and even thinking, are very much based on knowledge and memorization, not so much on an ability to process and interpret information. Sometimes this makes conversations difficult for us, because we are trying to get the person to realize what implication certain knowledge has on them, but it is difficult for them to move past the mere surface knowledge. They are incredibly intelligent, but it is a lot like asking some people to shatter a window that they have been used to viewing life through.

-Guilt. With all this knowledge of duty, community-oriented society, and the pressure placed on students, the average person carries around a lot of guilt. This is where part of the concept of "saving face" comes in. Face may be all that a person has to hold on to to grant them pride, thus to cause someone to lose face is a very serious thing to do. Hence, you will find here that even thieves are often not called out on their actions.

These are all things we keep in mind, and must learn to adjust to in understanding people we are interacting also takes a lot of wisdom to move someone towards truth without disrespecting their cultural context or values (many of which are very good, and things that the West could indeed learn from).

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