KongZi, Confucius Temple - Credit I.Walsh

People of different cultures think differently and these different ways of thinking create barriers to understanding and communication.

It is said that one’s thinking patterns change depending on one’s experiences. This means people who grow up in different cultures not only think about different things but also think differently. Their thought processes are determined and affected by the environment and culture in which they are raised. But what they have in common is the linear modes of thinking that involves a series of connected events, ideas, etc., which move or progress from one stage to the next. These are based on logical reasoning, categorization, and a faith in cause and effect. So, people of different cultures use different intellectual tools to arrive at a conclusion.

We can find the most striking difference in Asian and Western way of thinking. When Asian thinking aims for harmony, Western thinking strives for order. This is because the basic philosophy of Western people is based on the concept of liberty, free market economic system or liberalization of economic system. On the other hand, Asians do not give much importance to the aspects of free competition of the economic system. They are concerned more with the equal distribution of income or solidarity in helping each other among their communities, thereby assuring an egalitarian society.

It is understood that Asian thought has a holistic approach when compared to Western modes of reasoning. Westerners focus on objects or people, use different attributes to put them in categories, and apply rules of formal logic to understand their behavior or resolve them. On the contrary, Asian thinking is fundamentally dialectic looking for relationship between two opposing ideas to find a solution. In short, Asians do not look for choices or depend on categories or formal logic to arrive at a solution.

It was rightly said by Prof. Nisbett, “Westerners and Asians literally see different worlds. Westerners pay attention to the focal object, while Asians attend more broadly — to the overall surroundings and to the relations between the object and the field.” Divergent East-West thinking can trip up relationships. For example, West and East see North Korea’s nuclear threats very differently. It is very important to understand how other people think and see the world to avoid international disputes. These differences in thinking have also produced some tense business conflicts. To the Asians, changing circumstances determines changes in agreements. But to the Westerners, a deal is a deal.

Thus, these cognitive differences of thinking are hardwired into our culture, whether it is East or West.