I think the time is long overdue for us to drastically reduce our binary speech patterns…particularly the way we so easily contrast Western and Eastern world views as if they are two major monolithic cultures that stand in sharp contrast to one another. In fact, it is not the reality any more than shades of black and white represent the color spectrum. I believe that when we use this type of binary language we actually promote inaccurate outcomes and half-truths. We do the same thing when we try to contrast Muslims with Christians. Such contrasts are always half-truths and therefore misleading and often manipulative.
In my view, there is a BIG difference between contrasting the world views of two specific countries and contrasting the East and West. The blue and red imagine presented here is from Yang Liu’s excellent contrast of German vs Chinese cultures. Visit http://bsix12.com/east-meets-west/ to see more of her work. Here, Yang Liu, creates insightful and entertaining graphic art contrasting Germany (in blue) and China (in Red). I appreciate and value her observations from years of living in Germany. Because her observations are generally true (not always) we call them generalizations. It seems to me that qualified generalizations are in a different category than stereotyping. I see a problem when people promote Yang Liu art as contrasting East vs West cultural values (as most commentators seem to do) rather than just German-Chinese. PLEASE…the West is more than Germany and the East is more than China. In my thinking, contrasting the cultures of two countries with qualified generalizations can be very useful (and funny) but contrasting the East with the West does a disservice as it is always misleading…not to mention lazy.
If we break culture into ten basic dimensions (which is also controversial) we find that there are no cultural values that are owned by the West that are not also owned by many nations in the East and visa verse. Consider the following ten dimensions of culture described in a culture awareness tool called The Cultural Navigator (TM) used by many multinational organizations. Many of these dimensions are represented in Yang Yiu’s Germany vs China work too.
1. Time: How individuals perceive the nature of time and its use.
2. Action: How individuals conceptualize actions and interactions.
3. Communication: How individuals express themselves.
4. Space: How individuals demarcate their physical and psychological space.
5. Power: How individuals view differential power relationships.
6. Individualism: How individuals define their identity.
7. Competitiveness: How individuals are motivated.
8. Structure: How individuals approach change, risk, ambiguity and uncertainty.
9. Thinking: How individuals conceptualize.
10. Environment: How individuals view and relate to the people, objects and issues in their sphere of influence
In surveys, Koreans and Japanese score as being more direct than the French and Spanish, yet directness is normally considered a Western cultural value. However, directness is more of a German and Dutch cultural value and not so much of a French or Spanish cultural value. It makes some sense to make cultural generalizations between nations (or people groups within nations) but it makes little sense to contrast East with West unless half-truths are being promoted.
My point in all this is, let’s try to avoid binary constructs. It leads people to false conclusions and is a sign low cultural competence. It is a lazy man’s construct. Let’s get into the practice of qualifying our generalizations. When we generalize let’s try not to stereotype, remembering that each person is unique (and should be treated with dignity) no matter where they are from. What do you think?