Monday, April 14, 2014

BookPastor >> "Clash!" (Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner)

TITLE: Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are
AUTHOR: Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Hudson St Press, 2013, (320 pages).

As the world becomes more inter-connected, people will increasingly cross paths. Various people groups will intermarry and cultures will merge and adapt to each other. In many situations, they may even clash and produce conflicts never encountered before. In view of the inevitable conflicts, maybe the road ahead is not to arm ourselves with weapons but to wear the hats of understanding wherever we go. We anticipate changes. We welcome diversity. We seek first to understand than to be understood. This is where this book comes in. The key idea is, because cultural conflicts make us who we are, it is imperative to come up right through constructive interactions and engagements.

In an insightful study of eight different cultural conflicts, the authors who are also cultural psychologists describe the differences, reveal the various perspectives, and how we can understand the differences so that we can not only better appreciate them, but to learn to live and let live where necessary. At the root of their quest is the desire to locate ourselves and to find our identity that is being shaped by these cultural clashes. Describing the left side culture in terms of "I" (self, mind, psyche, and soul), and right-side "culture cycle" in terms of (I's, Interactions, Institutions, and Ideas), the authors contend that culture shaping begins from the left, conditioning the right, which in turn perpetuate this cycle. What if the shaping is non-constructive but destructive? What if our cultural blindness leads to misunderstanding and wars? Differences indeed can annoy people. What is needed is to break this negative culture cycles and to replace them with positive constructive efforts to live together well in eight ways.  

Firstly, geographical culture of East vs West is studied. In classroom, one sees a general Asian reluctance to speak up versus Western ideals of free speech and vocal interactions. The authors studied Amy Chua's application of Asian-style Tiger mums into a Western culture of free thinking and learning. An interesting study exposes the difference. While Asians generally will save their mother when the house is on fire, independent American students will prefer to save their spouses. The cultural clash of East and West is very much a clash of expectations in terms of independence vs interdependent.

Secondly, there is the gender divide, where the traditional male role is fast being challenged by a surging female version of independence and leadership. Will men retreat back into the house to fill in the vacuum left by the women, or will they pave the way for a new role altogether?

Thirdly, there is the racial divide that continues to be a challenge all over the world. Daily discriminations are widespread. Colour blindness remains more of an ideal instead of reality. For the roots of racism is strong and the desire to preserve one's ethnic roots equally strong, if not stronger. The authors propose that instead of mere stopping discrimination, the way ahead is to "take account" of racial differences at all levels.

Fourth, there is the socioeconomic clashes between the rich and poor. The Occupy movement is a case in point where the widening gap forces groups of demonstrators to campaign against greed and lopsided prosperity. Choose cooperation instead of segregation. Let the haves extend more help to the have-nots. Compared to the racial divide, the socioeconomic divide is twice as big. With education, independence and interdependence at every level of society, the divide can be bridged.

Fifth, there are regional cultures to be aware of even within the country or any one society. They can be big corporations vs small businesses, governments vs the man in the street, or profits vs non-profits, there is a tricky interplay of independence and interdependence among the various entities.

Sixth, faith culture too is a significant cultural difference. There are the religious vs the non-religious; the Christians vs non-Christians; the mainline Protestants vs liberal vs conservatives. The authors criticizes the founding documents of the United States as being "inconsistent" when it comes to fitting in the role of religion into the nation's fabric. If course, people like Michael Meyerson will counter that by saying that the Declaration of Independence is actually about religious freedom rather than merely fitting religion in.

Seventh, there is the clash of workplace cultures. Do people work for money (profits) or use money for people (non-profits)? What can businesses do for the community? The authors critiques the starfish story of saving at least one by arguing the need to fix a broken ecosystem instead of saving a small product of the system. Such an effort will require interdependent cooperation from governments, businesses, and non-profits.

Eighth, the equator broadly separates rich global North from a poorer global South. This requires better media representation of the South, greater leveraging of resources from the North. The North should learn to ask people what they need, partnering with locals in the South, to put relationships above businesses. As Global North works toward more interdependence, and as the global South become better partners, the world can indeed be bridged with better cooperation and understanding.

So What?

This book is helpful both at a corporate (or group) as well as a personal level. At a group level, we understand the broad differences and cultural conflicts that can impact people groups in general. While they are not hard and fast on any one particular situation, the recognition of differences prepares one to expect differences and respect diversity. In order to adapt ourselves, we need to anticipate different behaviours. Otherwise, we will go around behaving foolishly like hammers looking at every culture as if it is a nail. Throughout the book, there is a consistent comparing and contrasting of what it means to be independent as well as interdependent. Both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. What is important is that the more we recognize our own behaviours, and our needs for both dependence as well as independence, interactions as well as interdependence, the more we can grow in our bridge building efforts in closing the gaps of cultural conflicts.

For independence, consider how we can speak up when needed, embrace differences where necessary, asserting ourselves without guilt, making choices, and learning to take responsibility for our actions. For interdependence, we can learn to be better listeners, to do to others what we want others to do to us, to be assured of self-worth even when we adapt to other people's requirements, and to begin by assuming other people have more authority and more right than us.

Being human, we all have a tendency toward breaking out of various relationships. For every contract often has a limited shelf life. Every generation has their uniqueness. Every person their idiosyncrasies. Trying to fit others into our mold is unwise. It is also very debilitating. The best way is to learn to incorporate both degrees of independence and interdependence in all situations. Sometimes there will be more and other times there will be less. After all, the best self grows out of a harmonious garden of people who have healthy self-esteem. At the same time, the garden will be made more beautiful with a large variety of different people of different shapes, sizes, and cultural uniqueness. We are impoverished for the lack of it. We will be enriched with the wealth of it.

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