The one-sentence summary
Westerners and those from the East think and see the world differently, because of differing ecologies, social structures, philosophies and educational systems that date back to Ancient Greece and China.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
- Westerners and those from the East think and see the world differently, because of differing ecologies, social structures, philosophies and educational systems that date back to Ancient Greece and China.
- Easterners think holistically and see the world as a circle; Westerners think analytically and see it as a line.
- Easterners concentrate on context, environment, the whole scene, group behaviour, constant change, and inherent contradiction in the world.
- Westerners concentrate on objects, personal choice, tacit stability in the world, and polarised distinctions between facts that are ‘right or wrong’.
- These differences affect many areas of life:
- Medicine: eastern holism views the whole; west uses surgery to cut bits out
- Law: eastern compromise to avoid conflict; western absolute proof of right or wrong
- Debate: settled outside meetings in the east; debated openly in the west
- Science: deference to elders and little peer review; western open criticism
- Contracts: western view that once struck it can’t be modified; easterners disagree if circumstances change
- Religion: western ‘right or wrong’; eastern tolerance and interpenetration of ideas.
- All this can be summed up by the Japanese words awase (a harmonious, fitting-in style that assumes man cannot control his environment but has to adjust to it), and erabi (the objectivity, simplicity and ‘fragmentability’ of the American view).
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT
- The essence of the discussion is that it is indeed possible for two different people to look at the same picture and see something different.
- Western rhetoric pretty much always follows the form of background/problem/hypothesis/testing/evidence/prove/disprove/conclusion/recommendation. This supposed ‘logic’ is alien to easterners.
- It all starts when we are young: eastern parents concentrate on verbs, westerners on nouns; western schools are obsessed with logic and reasoning, eastern ones on entertaining apparently contradictory propositions.
- The Greeks were obsessed with agency – the sense that they were in charge of their own lives and free to act as they chose. This still pervades modern western thinking.
- There is no suffix equivalent to ‘ness’ in Chinese – it needs to be attached to right context, such as snow or a swan. As such, easterners find it difficult to categorise (they don’t see that it helps), because the context must be explained first for proper understanding.
- The Chinese dialectic uses contradiction to understand the relations among objects and events.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
- Convergence of the two approaches is advised but applying it could be tricky.