Monday, 28 May 2012

Thinking the West Eastward

The differences in thoughts between Asians and westerners have often been elaborated from the perspectives of history, culture, politics, and philosophy.  Therefore, it's good to read a psychology approach to this issue.  I got this when reading Richard Nisbett's The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... And Why.

Nisbett developed his argument on the basis of psychology experiments  carried out among Asians, Asian-Americans, and westerners.  Of course, the results of each experiment is never conclusive.  But, as a whole, the experiments make up a bulk of argument that confirms some of his (and our) suspicion.  Indeed, Nisbett merely reconfirms many of the stereotypes existing about Asians and westerners.  However, it's refreshing to learn that these stereotypes can and have been proven through controlled psychological experiments. 

Certain parts of the book is enlightening;  I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.  When reading about the questions posed in his experiments, I often found myself trying to answer those questions, trying to identify whether I am more of an Asian of a westerner.  The verdict on this remains inconclusive, but at least I have a better idea of the differences in perceptions between the two sides.

For my own personal purposes, the book has definitely enriched my perspective on how Asians and westerners may perceive diplomacy (and regional interactions in the Asia-Pacific) differently.  Asians will most likely believe that we must surrender ourselves to the dynamic changes in regional situations (basically "go with the flow") and appreciate diplomatic processes more than their actual results.  Meanwhile, Westerners would make us believe that if factors to a situation are analyzed well and implemented based on theoretical underpinnings, then such situations can be controlled to produce a desired result.

Nisbett claims that in the future, there will most likely be two end results to the differences in thoughts between Asians and westerners.  The first assumption, like Samuel Huntington's, is that there will be a clash of thoughts, which will draw the sides into conflict.  The second assumption, however, would see the development of a "third way" which draws lessons from the positive values imbedded in both ways of thinking.

For the longest time, I've thought of myself as "a banana": yellow on the outside, white on the inside.  I thought of myself as an Asian by looks, but with western thinking.  Because of that, I more than often fell into the trap of looking at the Asian way of thinking in a condescending manner.   Yes, I was naive.

The more I live in Indonesia, and the more I'm surrounded by Asian people of various sorts, thus, the more I'm beginning to see that there is virtue in the Asian way of thinking.  That, maybe, unlike Fukuyama's prediction, the end of history is not here yet, and that the western way of thinking is not the apex of mankind.

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