More about problem ownership: cultural differences
Cultural differences can be ascribed to rules of acceptable behaviour that have evolved in response to differing needs… For example, in Western society, where principles of leadership come from a long and noble tradition, and where society has evolved past tribal traditions to a complex web of power relationships, the act of stepping aside to allow another to pass, and then walking behind them denotes respect and a willingness to ‘follow’ the other. In tribal Africa however, where physical survival is harsh, the act of walking in front of another denotes great respect because it offers an undefended back. To stand and allow another to walk in front indicates suspicion, and is an insult. Both behaviours stem from the needs of the particular culture and the particular time.
Similarly, in China, one would never give anything to anyone else with the left hand, since that is the one that is traditionally used to wipe the bottom. Such a thing would be grossly insulting. The degree to which behaviour is considered acceptable often depends on many almost arbitrary factors. How we feel often depends on how seriously we regard an infringement of an accepted custom. The young traffic policeman who has just become a father may let a speeding driver off with a caution, while his colleague who has just attended a road traffic accident may ‘throw the book at’ the driver. We may also vary our response to a similar situation depending on the ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ of the incident.
A young child will get away with behaviour for which an adult will receive serious censure, and behaviour on Saturday afternoon on the beach is likely to receive a different response on Sunday morning in church! It is in this arena that prejudice often rears its ugly head. A pretty young woman is frequently allowed to ‘get away with’ more than an older less attractive man or woman by a male boss, and a black youth is often more closely questioned than his white counterpart when a crime has been committed.
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