The Geography of Thought
The Geography of Thought
Thought is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurring suddenly in the mind. ” Thought can be influenced by different geographic locations, cultures, customs, religions and beliefs. On opposite sides of the world geographically there are advantages thinking like both an Easterner and Westerner. Eastern thinking is founded on many different principles than Western thinking. Differences in every aspect of life can be found among these civilizations. For instance, education varies differently between both these countries.
In Eastern thought education is viewed as expanding ones knowledge and curiosity for self-fulfillment. To educate oneself is for own personal growth and knowledge unlike the Greeks. For example, Greek culture rules that through education, power and wealth can be achieved. Although there was an emphasis on this idea the Greeks were not as advanced as the Chinese civilization at the time. The Chinese were a very advanced civilization and are responsible for the creation of a plethora of technologically advanced tools and resources. A few advances include, ink, porcelain, irrigation systems and immunization techniques.
During the time period in which these developments were made there appears to be no evidence of any technological contributions made by the Greeks. Not emphasizing a personal gain attitude the Chinese seem to have been more successful than a society who was looking to advance themselves as individuals and not work as a whole. During my time as an under graduate student in New York City, I was immersed in a melting pot of cultures. The school I attended ranged from Polish, Russian, Korean and Japanese students. The Japanese and Korean students were socially different than the American students.
For example a student’s name was Sungkwon Ha and chose an American name such as Tony so that American students and teachers could pronounce it easier and that they would blend in more. When the students needed to speak to a professor after class they would ask permission to approach the professor if they had a question or were going to engage in leisurely conversation. When the instructor gave them permission and asked them to sit, the Japanese students would bow and then take a seat. After class one day I had asked the student why he bowed at our instructor.
The student had explained that is seen as a great respect to be an educator and that he must show his respect before conversing with the teacher Differences between the two nations in Philosophy can also be found. Adversely Chinese Philosophy is based on Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism which has the central theme of harmony. A particular symbol that embodies the Philosophy of an Easterner is the Yin and Yang Taoist Symbol. A circle with an “S” shape dividing the color black and white that has two small circles of the opposing color in each. The Yin and Yang represent balance between
relationships. For example, Good cannot be with bad and happy cannot thrive with sad. Confucianism stress a simplistic life filled with education. This central idea of harmony and working as whole as opposed to individual parts can be seen throughout the culture over the history of time. Greek Philosophy did not rely on the senses but heavily relied on logical reasoning. “Greek philosophy thus differed greatly from Chinese in that it was deeply concerned with the question of which properties made an object what it was, and which were alterable without changing nature of the object.
”(9, Nisbett) The Greeks were viewed as individuals with their own ideas and ideals unlike the Chinese. The Greeks were not a unified nation with the same thoughts but a nation of dissimilar individuals working toward personal success. The idea that one’s geographic location can shape beliefs’ and ideals can be seen when comparing the two nations. Greece, which has land that borders the Ionia, Mediterranean, and Aegean seas had the opportunity to meet different types of people because of its vast costal location.
Because of the Greeks coming in contact with many different cultures and backgrounds it pushed the civilization to become diverse and think as individuals rather than a conformed unit of one. Meeting different people of different countries and working with these diverse people shaped Greeks as individuals. Unlike the Greeks to China’s geographic location meeting another individual of a different background was highly unlikely.
Conformity and unity were the key essentials to a Chinese society. With limited opportunity to meet different people of different countries this kept the Chinese secluded from even the thought of following different ideas and ideals. In a way this was both a positive and negative.
Meeting dissimilar people and exchanging morals/ideals could have exposed the Chinese to allow them to decide what is in their best interest rather than just follow what they were told to. In this scenario I would consider thinking like a Westerner advantageous. The idea of a nation working toward the same goal is a very pleasing thought. In the Chinese language there is no word that can be found that means “individual. ” This alone solidifies my reasoning as to why I would prefer to think like a Westerner. To have choices and chose for the betterment of myself in every aspect of my life is an idea I have come to appreciate and cherish.
There are different ways in which it would be advantageous to think like a Westerner. The importance of thinking similar to a westerner is how westerners viewed education. For me education is the key to success and advances oneself to a better way of life. Education can allow you to have power, money and stability which are keys to living in today’s society in America. The cost of education alone is astronomical which makes it very difficult to obtain. For instance, my parents made many sacrifices so I could have the best education possible.
Growing up I was pushed to enter history fairs, science competitions and even art exhibits. While I was pushed academically I succeeded beyond their expectations and found myself on a different path than those who were uninterested in achieving greatness academically. During summers I would take humanities courses at a local college. I found that the class was divided into an even split. The students who were there because they had to be there and if they had the option would rather be on a beach or planted in front of a TV. And the other half was there because they wanted to be there and achieve the most higher education they could.
The half that did not want to be there thought taking student loans and acquiring more and more debt while never being able to find a job was useless. The other half was willing to take on the debt and achieve all the success they could. In China the cost of education is far less than what Americans pay. This may be because of their great emphasis on education unlike here in the United States. Similarly I find it advantageous to think like an Easterner as well. The basis of life for an easterner I feel has an aspect of “unity” in their society.
Work is meant to better the community as a whole and not just be advantageous for monetary gain. Nisbett refers to the definition of a what a company is, the options are: “ A. ) a company is a system designed to perform functions and tasks in an efficient way. People are hired to fulfill these functions with the help of machines and other equipment. They are paid for the tasks they perform. ” Or, option B. ) “A company is a group of people working together. The people have social relations with other people and with the organization. The functioning is dependent on these relationships. ”
Through analysis it was shown that a great percentage of Americans chose option A and the majority of Easterners chose option “B”. In this scenario I think it would be beneficial to think as an easterner and work together as a unit instead of independently. Previously, I worked in a corporate office setting and found that the environment did closely resemble option “B”.
The attitude of “me first” seems to overcome American employees as well as the attitude “what can I get out of it. ” Another example that I found interesting to think like an Easterner is when Nisbett refers to his Japanese student who was excited to attend his first football game in Michigan.
The student mentions a quote that he was taught at a very young age as a child in Japan, “ watch your back. ” It was interesting to see that in an American society we would view this quote as watch behind you in fear of someone backstabbing or taking advantage of you. In this students’ culture it was viewed as be mindful of the people behind you always. The student attended the football game and was in shock how the American’s behaved. Students were standing up mid-game and unaware or selfishly did not respect the people behind them. This sparked an experiment geared toward comparing Asians and Americans.
“Asians view the world through a wide-angle lens, whereas Westerners have tunnel vision ”(89, Nisbett). The experiment consisted of a series of eight drawings of fish in water. Some of these vignettes had more fish, less fish, rocks, bubbles, plant life.. etc. Different pictures with different backgrounds. The results of the experiment showed that American students focused more on the fish than the Asian students. The Asian students focused on the fish as well as the background depictions. This experiment alone encompasses so many differences that can be found among these nations. Chinese believe in balance and harmony and working as a whole.
The Chinese see the whole picture and the relationship between the foreground and background. Americans focus on themselves and just one aspect of the images. Understanding that change doesn’t just move in one direction and could possibly go in any direction is a characteristic of the Eastern thought. In one of the studies the main idea was how the outlook of change differed for each group. Nisbetts findings indicated that the Chinese considered change more than the Americans.
“On average, Chinese thought change was likely about 50 percent of the time and Americans thought change was likely about 30 percent of the time. ” (104,Nisbett) In this situation I think it is advantageous to think like an Easterner. Accounting for events that are not foreseen is the beauty of life. The unpredictable and uncertainty of everyday is an idea the Easterners have.
Americans again I think have tunnel visions and are not keen to surrounding factors which may affect them. American’s zone in and put blinders on where the Easterners take the blinders off and see the world around them as a whole. I would prefer and like to believe I see the world as a whole and not just focus on one aspect or task at a time.
Nisbett begins to compare events of an Easterners and Westerners. A young Eastern student murdered a professor, innocent by standards and himself. An American postal worker for the United States took the life of himself, boss and innocent bystanders. In these series of events comparisons were made between a Chinese newspaper, World Journal and The New York Times. The World Journal was concrete in the decision that both these horrific events were circumstantial. Adversely the Times suggested it was already in there nature to do these terrible acts.
The Times focused on the how the person alone exhibited these sinister characteristics all throughout their life which points to why they did this. The World Journal focused on how these events happened. The paper reiterates that if the circumstances were different these unfortunate acts would not have occurred. “Chinese people are inclined to attribute behavior to context and Americans tend to attribute the same behavior to the actor. ”(114, Nisbett).
The cross-cultural study of casual attribution by Joan Miller exemplifies the prior quote. Gathering participants of Hindu East Indians and Americans of varying age groups, a series of questions pertaining essentially to why people behave as they do.
Miller’s results indicated that Americans exhibited behavior reflecting that people are the way they are because they are built a certain way. While the Hindu Indians saw that everything is circumstantial. Situations shape a person and make them act the way they act. What was most interesting was that the children in both groups responded the same to the questions. I believe that over time these children will correlate their beliefs to those of their respective culture. Relating back to how Easterners and Westerners view the world this is an example on how ideas of the past still thrive in today’s world.
The American’s seeing just the object, focus solely on the individual. Whereas the Easterners look at the whole picture and find the reasoning as to how this event happens because of influencing factors. Although there are differences among these cultures there are both positives and negatives these cultures embody. It is not necessarily a negative to have differences in the way we live and see life. If everyone were to think alike the world would be a very boring place. After these readings I have also learned that a balance between both Eastern and Western cultures would be an ideal way to live.
Subject: Chinese philosophy,
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 1 November 2016
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