Book Notes: Geography of Thought

You know, the difference between you and me is that I think the world is a circle, and you think it is a line.—Kaiping Peng, UC Berkeley

Premise

Cultural differences generally cause Westerners and Easterners to perceive the world differently. Westerns see objects where Easterners see context and relationships. This affects education, research, and understanding of motivations.

Points of Interest

I found it especially interesting that in tragic events such as shootings, American causal attribution is focused on personality traits; Asians focus attention on surrounding events and relationships, inclined to see many more facts as possibly relevant than Americans would.

In addition, while American schools teach history in effect-cause pattern (“Here’s what happened, here are 3 reasons”), Japanese schools give an impetus, discuss how the actors involved would’ve felt, analogies to students’ daily experiences, and end with the outcome. Japanese students are considered good historical thinkers when they can empathize with historical figures, whereas Americans are proficient when they can deduce and explain the events leading to an outcome.

In a business sense, Eastern cultures tend to see companies as groups of people working toward a common goal, the individuals having relationships with one another and the organization. In contrast, Westerners view them as systems to efficiently organize work. Perhaps this is why Easterners are more open to arbitration, while Westerners want to sic lawyers on their opponents.

Personal Thoughts

It seems very valuable to see the world in terms of context and relationships, to recognize that many things are outside of one’s singular control, and that success requires interdependence, not independence. The Eastern view of companies seems much more fulfilling and likely to result in the success and contentment of employees.