“Tell me where you are from, I will tell you how you think”

Posted on: 24 janvier 2012

“Tell me where you are from, I will tell you what you think”. What a revolting sentence! Which of course is wrong. However it is not far from reality, for by only changing one word of it, one could produce a statement that could be verified in many situations and that has always been true: “Tell me where you are from, I will tell you how you think”.

Every culture, if we define it as does Marieke de Mooij in Global Marketing and Advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes as “the glue that binds groups together”, sets a floor upon which individuals can dance.

That floor is made of thinking patterns and intellectual styles which are often very similar among people belonging to the same culture.

The Gallic intellectual style is the one in which French children are raised. It is the one of Descartes and of all the great French thinkers who produce concepts that are theoretical frameworks intended to help us think. Theory and principle work as a superior authority that can be referred to when demonstrating a point.

The Teutonic style has produced a massive number of major German thinkers (Hegel, Kant, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Goethe, Schopenhauer…) who deduce things from what they observe.

The Saxonic style, as exemplified by St Thomas, demands proof and evidence.  A fact is a fact, and can hardly be discussed.

The Nipponic style revolves much more around a general feeling about a situation. Logic is less valued in Japan than it is in France or America. The Japanese trust instincts and intuition (as do the Saudis).

 Warning! One can still object that Kant (Teutonic style, “reasoning and deduction”) was a specialist of abstract theoretical concepts and that Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” (Gallic style, “theoretical arguments”) is a master example of reasoning and deduction. Thus this theory of styles cannot be generalized or applied to any thinker or any demonstration.

Still, one can easily observe that an American tends to demand “facts and evidence” and base the reasoning on this sole requisite. It is interesting to notice that the noun “accumulation” is used a lot in American books, which shows that American people tend to quantify things even if they are speaking about something abstract, like knowledge or skills.

In Asia, people tend not to think by following a logical chain of deduction based on solid facts, but rather by considering that A can lead to B but Z could also lead to B, because everything is interdependent for them.

In Western schools, critical analysis and deduction are encouraged. In Asia, pupils have many things to memorize. We could deduce from this that this memorization learning system accustoms people to associate events and facts quite freely and to capture information without especially putting it in a logical chain.

An interesting observation to end this article now: the Russian language uses a lot of negative forms (“There will never not be nothing” etc.), which has an influence on the way people think. Therefore, Russian-speaking thinkers have a very different approach to life than English- or French-speaking ones. It would be interesting to wonder if the language is responsible for this mentality or if it is the other way round (Russia and its surroundings have suffered a lot from conflicts, in which you need to be able to say no…).

Interesting references on the subject :

Marieke de Mooij’s website

A book : The nature of intellectual styles (Li-fang Zhang,Robert J. Sternberg)


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