Differences, Similarities & Intersections Between East and West
Why We Should Know and Understand Our Cultural Roots?
Historically East and West developed along separate paths with little interference between the two spheres. Eastern and Western culture are in many ways complementary opposites.
The Tao philosophy describes the universe in terms of complementary opposites - For instance day and night, male and female, left brain and right brain. The two are distinctly separate but need each other to be whole. The same thought is reflected in the works of Quantum Physicist Niels Behr's Complementarism.
In today's globally blended reality, East West communities are fast expanding.
There is much interest to better understand the differences between East and West and how they intersect.
The Roots of Eastern and Western World Views.
Whilst there are many ethnicities within the East and West, two philosophies lie at the root of East and West. Greek Philosophers Plato, Socrates and Aristotle influenced the development of Western culture, whilst Confucius, Buddha and Lao-Tze shaped Eastern values and culture.
This is significant because the values that came from their thinking defined the cultural development of East and West.
- The core value is based on the principle of collectivism which places man as a member of a multiple collective rather than an individual.
- Maintaining relationships is key to ensuring a harmonious society. Control of oneself is required in order to maintain harmonious relationships. Hierarchy within relationships are observed and respected.
- Filial Piety which is a reverence for ancestry and family are valued.
- The world is seen as holistic and changing. Events are explained in terms of context.
- The midway or compromise is favoured to resolve contradictions.
- The central belief is based on the principle that man is an individual at the centre of his universe.
- The world is dualistic meaning that body, mind and spirit are seen as being separate from each other.
- The world is stable and unchanging so therefore the pursuit and curiosity of knowledge was pursued in order to explain the universe.
- This is achieved through valuing linear thinking, reasoning with the categorization of things and events. In this way rules reasoning and formal logic are applied to explain events. Scientific scrutiny is required as the basis of accepting new evidence into formal structures.
Differences Between East and West Thinking
Geography of Thought
Richard Nisbett Professor of social psychology and co-director of the Culture and Cognition program at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor gives a very insightful perspective on East West thinking.
Nisbett's book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently And Why (Free Press; 2003) contends that our brains are wired to think and process information differently depending on our upbringing, the way we are socialized. the language we use and our genes.
He cites a number of key differences - Westerners brains are wired to think linearly whilst Easterners contextually.
Westerners are more inclined to rhetoric whereas Easterners are more inclined to accept knowledge without too much argument.
Westerners use more nouns whilst easterners use more verbs. Example an Asian will say 'Drink' The Westerner will say 'More Tea?'
Westerners identify objects by their shape whilst Easterners by their substance.
Nisbitts illustrates how cultural expression is influenced by the way we think and concludes that humans are malleable - that is they change according to environment and social orientation.
Personal agency - Self Centred
Member in multiple Collective
Linear Focus - focus on details.
Interrealted and changing. The whole is more than the sum of its parts..
Developed knowledge and rules to master the world.
Developed relationships. Hierarchical family orientation.
Control oneself to maintain social harmony.
Middle way to maintain harmony.
Backward reasoning. Looking for principles that justify events.
Causal analysis. Events are described in terms of context.
Nouns: eg: more tea?
Verbs: eg: Drink tea..
Difference Between East and West: Cuisine.
It is said that the way to a person’s heart is through the tummy. The sharing of meals always plays a central part in keeping family and community together. Through food we are able to bond with family, friends and community. We get to know about our way of life, our values how we identify ourselves, what makes us similar and different to others and to celebrate special occasions around meals.
Western values of Individuality, detail and science is strongly featured in the way Westerns eat. Meals are served in individual portions and eaten with a knife and fork. This reflects an individualist culture. In the West meat and fish are main dishes whilst vegetables are side dishes .
The value of science and detail is expressed in the focus of the nutritional value of food
Eastern values of Collectivism, group or communal minded is expressed in the sharing of meals which helps to promote family relationships. Meals are placed at the centre of the table so everyone can share. Meals are eaten with chopsticks – In the East Vegetables are the main dish served with grain usually white rice or noodles and meat is used in small portions.
Spiritual, aesthetic (The way something looks) and holistic Values are expressed in that the taste and look of food is more important with balance being achieved by combining both Yin and Yang foods in a meal.
Being part of a multicultural community or family has the advantage of being exposed to different types of cuisines and cooking styles. Meals revolve around individual preferences and a combination of foods rather than a preference for one type of cuisine. For instance some meals may be Asian in origin such as Sushi, Chinese stir fry whilst other days might reflect a western preference for instance spaghetti bolognaise, Pizza, Hamburger, or perhaps a fusion dish or style might be selected on other days.
Differences Between East & West: Cuisine
Knife & Fork Isolated setting. Cutlery provides more distance between food and preparation area and the individual.
Chopsticks Communal Seating (Bringing people together around a dish). Unity of family and community. Less distance between food and place of preparation.
Condiments that cater for your individuality.
Measured, technical More solitary experience. Buying frozen food to shorten the food preparation time.
Intuition and rule of thumb. Social experience involving others. Buying partly frozen food - Eating at street market
Protein or meat is the main portion with vegetables as side portions. Food portions are bigger and cut with knife and fork Rice is not usually served with the main meal..
Vegetables are main portions, grains then protein or meat which is usually a side portion. Food is bite size and eaten with chopsticks. Rice usually white rice is served with main meals.
Tend to Value nutritional value of food. Cold Drinks.
Tend to value the flavour of the food. Warm Drinks.
To Promote social relationships.
To promote intimacy and strengthen family ties.
Differences Between East and West: Health& Wellness.
Eastern treatments include herbal remedies, food therapy, acupuncture, reflexology
Western medical techniques include Laboratory testing, Pharmaceutical medicine and surgical methods with diagnostic tools
Holistic & Integrative: Looks to find the root of illness before treating.
Exercise is focused to treat the muscles of the body as mind body and spirit are seen as separate.
Differences Between East & West: Spirituality.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam
God is separate to mankind: Dualism- There are two worlds – The Natural and the supernatural.
God is Within. One Reality.
God is on the outside
God is on the inside
We only live once but our soul is immortal.
We live many lives and born again through reincarnation.
We are judged for our deeds when we die.
Karma is part of our life and we get what we deserve on earth depending how we lived our lives in previous incarnations or lives.
Human Beings are sinful and need to control their impulses in order to stay good.
Human beings are ignorant but can become enlightened or wise.
Spiritual practice is based on developing a personal relationship with God.
Spiritual practice is based on quietening the mind through meditation.
Jesus and Mohammed are intermediaries between mankind and God
No Intermediaries – only one reality. We access divine through inner reflection.
Differences Between East and West: Aesthetics.
Definition of Aesthetics.
The term 'aesthetics' concerns our senses and our responses to an object. If something is aesthetically pleasing to you, it is 'pleasurable' and you like it. If it is aesthetically displeasing to you, it is 'displeasurable' and you don't like it. Aesthetics involves all of your senses - vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell - and your emotions.
The Western view of beauty is rooted in ancient Greece – as Western cultural values are. For something to be considered beautiful it needs to have three elements:
Traditional Western art is concerned with detail, geometric lines and point of view of the artist. This reflects the Western value of logic, linear perspective, detail, external perception, individuality.
The Eastern view tries to capture the spirit of the artist or the work of art. Rather than detail, emptiness and space are used to reflect the Eastern view of holism. Everything being inter-connected. Nature is often used as the subject matter reflecting the Eastern value of being close to nature. The artist aims to look through the eyes rather than with his eyes in order to create a spiritual sensibility and a heartfelt experience.
Eastern Zen aesthetic values try to capture the stillness of the universe which is puzzling because it is empty but full at the same. The essence of empty space and mystery through the artist vision of sincerity, mysterious profundity, pathos, sublime beauty, emotional beauty, melancholy, loneliness are among the most valued aesthetic ideals.
Differences Between East and West: Aesthetics.
Rooted in Ancient Greece
Rooted in China, Japan
Harmony, Balance, Symmetry.
Zen seven principals Sincerity, mysterious profundity, pathos, sublime beauty and emotional beauty, melancholy, loneliness
Differences Between East and West: Language.
Language is an indicator of our cultural heritage. There are as many languages as there are different cultures and countries.
As with the Western value of structure and rules, the Western language is phonetic based. It is much simpler than Eastern Languages because there are only twenty six letters in the alphabet whereas there are thousands of characters in the Eastern language – one needs to know at least three thousand characters in order to read basic texts.
China being a large country has many different regions each with their own dialect. The official dialect is Mandarin. Other languages from East Asian countries include Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese.
As with the Chinese value of context and holism, Chinese is a tonal language with one word meaning different things depending on the tone used.
The written language although complex is the same for all Chinese dialects so although China has many dialects, the written language is the same regardless of dialect. Writing is based on graphical and encoded characters – For Instance the word bright has both the son and the moon. The Chinese place great value in books and the written language.
With China becoming more influential in the world, many people are today learning Mandarin due to its potential for opening opportunities
Differences Between East and West: Language
phonetic based. Twenty six Letters of the alphebet.
Graphic based. need at know at least three thousand characters to read.
Differences Between East and West: Music.
Music is considered an art form. Music has the power to transform us and to convey messages difficult to speak.
The value system of East and West influences the type of music produced and its appeal to different cultures.
The West with its individualistic culture has many different types of music and genres from Hip Hop, Country, Rock, Pop, Jazz..
In the East, Confucius believed that music should complement the cultural goals of the nation. Traditional music is therefore created with the goal of instilling a sense of collective harmony between mind, body and spirit.
Instruments such as the flute, qin and drums are used to create music that brings alignment with mind body and soul.
Today K Pop appeals to a wide pan Asian audience. – Western hip hop sung in Korean to synchronized choreography.
Similaities Between Eastern and Western World-View
Much has been written about the differences between Eastern and Western worldviews but little has been said about similarities and parallels between the two seemingly apposite worldviews.
Similarities Between East and West.
East and West like all humans search for meaning and purpose to life. Much is said about the differences between East and West, but much less is said about similarities and parallels.
- Historically both philosophies seek the truth - The one through science and the other through spirituality.
- Treating people the way you would like to be treated was taught by both Confucius and Jesus Christ.
- Both see the universe as consisting of elements. Water, air, earth, metal and fire.
- Both East and West agree that all is energy and that there are other dimensions to our greater universe even although it might not be visible to the naked eye.
- Both have a predictive zodiac system. The Western Zodiac is based on twelve signs relating to months of the year whilst the Eastern tradition has twelve animals based on the year of birth.
- Both used Parables to relate concepts.
- Both East and West believe that man is born with innate knowledge that just needs to be encouraged to pursue. We love our children and want to see them prosper.
- Both East and West pursue the meaning of good and evil.
- Both Easterners and Westerners have a hierarchy of needs as described in Maslow's theory of needs. Starting from Physiological, security, belongingness, self esteem and self actualization.
In general the needs are the same but the method of finding answers and solutions are somewhat different - with the West favouring a scientific approach with focus on specific elements whilst the East focus, being more holistic and general.
Intersections Between East and West.
Both Taoism and complementarism as defined in quantum physics agree that the universe consists of polar opposites that need each other to maintain a harmonious whole. Each opposite cannot occupy the same space at the same time but together they form a complementary whole
For instance night and day, male and female, good and evil, left brain and right brain. Likewise the East and West are viewed as complementary opposites.
It follows that East and West agree on the same things but their methods are often at polar opposites when it comes to finding solutions and outcomes. For instance the West is generally more externally focused whist the East,internally. The West values individualism Whilst the East Collectivism. The West is traditionally associated with left brain thinking whilst the East, Right brain thinking.
The intersection of complementarism with the growing awareness that the world is interconnected and interdependent creates the need for co-operation between East and West to produce outcomes that are complementary and holistic.
Today's post modernism era reflects the blending of time, space and culture, where increaasingly the blending of of the collective wisdoms of Eastern and Western values influence and shape our reality.
Nisbett, Richard The Geography of Thought Simon & Shuster inc. 2003
Liu, Yang East Meets West An Infographic Portrait of the Differences Between East and West.Taschen, 2015