Saturday, April 5, 2014

Me vs. We Thinkers

"Look at me, look at me, look at me." "Go out there and show them who's number one!" 

We Americans talk a lot. Talk. Talk. Talk. Many an American teacher sees the child (with a raised hand) that talks a lot as intelligent. This talk, talk, talk busy-ness is an American concept of intelligence often ridiculed in other cultures. Watch any Monty Python lately? You can verify it for yourself by watching many a newscaster.

In America, we hustle to get to the front of the line. We do not encourage our children to defer to others; this is seen as a sign of weakness. What is lost in deferring to those who think they need to be first? The result of this is that in America, time and energy are spent on me, me, me, which cultivates a certain amount of rudeness.

In Japan, children learn to wait to eat with other people so that everyone eats at the same time. Admittedly, this waiting drove me crazy with the preschool set, but by starting early, the tone is set for the "we" concept.

The me vs. we culture yields some tangible differences.

"Which culture is easier to get along with, Japanese or American?" my husband asked our son. With no hesitation, our son answered, "Japanese." I piped in, "Why?" Our son replied, "Because they're kinder, quieter, and they're not mean." 

Reeling at the sting of my own culture being meaner, I sat quietly, knowing that he spoke a truth. My husband brought up a difficult friend for our son while we lived in Japan. Our son responded, "The American kids are meaner." 

While Americans focus on, "I'm the boss," our Japanese friends focus on, "We are all part of the group." 

The focus on the we leads to some tedious experiences in trying to reach consensus. If everyone is part of the group, then any one member can lead the group astray as everyone has the right to challenge the group. You are not allowed to be mean to some because everyone has the right to be there.

Wow! Everyone has the right to be there. 

Japanese friends might say the niceness is feigned. My point is that the individual is important enough to the group that they fake being nice which beats vitriol anytime, just ask my nine year old.

In America we spend time dismissing everyone else's right to be at the table-- he's an athlete, they're gay, she's poor, he's uneducated. We're so busy eliminating differences that we end up serving only ourselves-- me, me, me.

We could benefit from thinking not about the me but about the we.

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