An old friend harassed me about the last post being a bit too naive. That there are cultural and social forces that can skew the psychology of entire populations of people. And I agree. The way a culture influences our very perception of reality is a long standing fascination of mine. And, of course, the way we perceive fundamentally influences our behavior. Our socialization and media are also powerful determinants of how we see the world. And most of these mechanisms pivot around whether we are inside or outside a particular group; an important evolutionary construct for our species survival in the wild, to gang up to escape predators and find food.
And I was actually commenting, probably poorly, on that very thing working against us. I’ve recognized a certain pattern in people who are unsuccessful in their adjustment to another culture, especially when I lived in Japan, where individual behavior was ascribed to the group and negative judgments were quickly projected to the Japanese as a whole. From that point on, all of their social interactions became less about the individual and more about the nationality. and these discontents usually left with some firm opinions about how all people in Japan acted and why it was such a disagreeable culture. Easy to do. The tendency to group and polarize is built into our very language, our sports, our politics, etc. And once we start seeing things a certain way, we will naturally accumulate more and more evidence for our point of view (and discard more and more data that contradicts it.
And these stereotypes may even be true, some of the time, for some of the people. But there are other stations on the dial, some with more nuanced and interesting music that are just as true, if not more so. Like the one where we realize all the characters back in our homey group are also in this new group, and even more. So the task becomes less automatically judging a behavior as this or that quality of the country and observing what’s at play in this particular individual. And yes, sometimes individuals can just be cut-outs of their party line, be that national, regional, or billy-bob podunk arkansas and they can be living pretty much on autopilot within this cut-out. But usually everyone has a spark of their own under these veneers and this is the frequency I was advocating one attend to when entering new currents of humanity. It’s more enriching for both parties.
Later, I do hope to delve more into some of the fascinating cultural perceptions in a way that broadens my own experience of reality. What I learned most about my stay in Japan wasn’t anything really about the Japanese culture, but about my own assumptions about reality.