When you travel to a different country, you discover different cultural values. You might hear cultural rules that you need to be aware of like “Never shake hands with your left hand,” or “When you meet a person, you bow to them first before speaking” or “when a younger person meets an older one, the younger allows the older to speak first out of respect.”
You can also see cultural differences respond in strikingly different ways to the same situation. In her book “Quiet” Susan Cain notes an interesting cultural difference that shows up when considering shy children. She writes “One study comparing eight to ten year old children in Shanghai, China and southern Ontario, Canada found that shy and sensitive children were shunned by their peers in Canada but made sought after playmates in China. Shy children were more likely to be considered for leadership roles in China. Chinese children who are sensitive and restrained are said to be dongshi or understanding, a common term of praise.
Similarly, Chinese high school students tell researchers that they prefer friends who are “humble” and “unselfish,” “honest” and “hard-working.” American high school students seek out the “cheerful,” “enthusiastic,” and “sociable.” “The contrast is striking,” writes Michael Harris Bond, a cross-cultural psychologist who focuses on China. “The Americans emphasize sociability and prize those attributes that make for easy, cheerful association. The Chinese emphasize deeper attributes, focusing on moral virtues and achievement.”
So do you get what she’s saying? Different cultures can view the shy and sensitive person in a totally different way. In a North American context we can conclude there’s something wrong with that person. But in China, they’re a sought out playmate who would likely be considered for a leadership position.
It can surprise us to discover that places exist and people who have very different values to ours. But sometimes we discover that those different values are worthwhile considering and maybe even adopting.