This post addresses the cultural differences between the fatalistic insulation of far-Eastern culture, and the faithful consideration of western culture.
A significant cultural difference is described here by a reader, Anna. She is a Taiwanese female who lived in the U.S. during her adolescent and college years. She writes,
“Hi, I am not male, but I want to share my experience. When I lived in North America, I got more attention generally and almost all people treated me better, even took care of me because my Asian appearance gave them the image that I was a little girl out of my country without family, so they should give me help. After I came to Taiwan, my parent’s country, except my family and very few friends, I lost people’s attention because of my Taiwanese appearance. I even felt I had been ignored sometimes. I wouldn’t say this is discrimination, because it’s just local people treat me as Taiwanese. But in comparison, for sure, I would be disappointed especially my Caucasian fellows got more attention, help and many special treatments. Well now I am still very confused…”
“I will tell a true story. Once, I felt dizzy on the MRT and almost fainted. No one helped me. I was not able to stand so I got off the MRT and crawled on the platform. No one even bothered to ask if I was alright. That’s how Taiwanese treat each other in a big city. When a similar accident happened to my Austrian friend at Taipei 101, people were so nice and helpful, although I was there to take care of her needs.”
What Anna is describing is a cultural difference in social norms. In many parts of the U.S. (and probably other areas of what is called western civilization), most people have the belief that every person has the ability to affect the lives of others, and as such, we each have the moral responsibility to make that effect a positive one, rather than a negative one. Thus, those people who are more considerate of the welfare of others are considered to be the ‘good people’ of society.
In Asia, by contrast, people hold a fatalistic viewpoint of others, meaning that people’s lives are largely determined by ‘fate’, which is usually interpreted to mean ‘chance’, or the karma of their character. As such, what one person does to/for another does very little to affect the overall quality of their lives. Thus, it is more expedient not to get involved in the problems and miseries of others.
Furthermore, those who are able to keep their lives relatively simple while also achieving at least a moderate degree of success are considered to be the ‘good people’ in Asian society, as these characteristics are seen to be an indicator of their good karma or character.
***Addendum (June 4, 2018)***
Care Compass Network: Understanding Cultural Differences: Asian Culture (January 29, 2018)
“In October at the 23rd Annual Asian American Mental Health Training Conference, Dr. Tazuko Shibusawa, PhD, LCSW discussed the differences between Western cultural beliefs with those of Asian culture during a plenary session. Dr. Shibusawa pointed out that often cultural beliefs and norms are unspoken and ingrained into our total being, that we often don’t even realize that we are holding onto them.”
“Dr. David Mee-Lee, another presenter at the conference, attended Dr. Shibusawa’s plenary session created a table of Western and Asian cultures on his Tips & Topics blog, that shows how some beliefs seem to be self-evident truths in Western Culture, but when compared to Asian culture, Asians would label them as an obvious truth.”