One of my best friends and a colleague is Rajkumar Boaz Johnson. I call him the “Rajah” which means “king”, “Raj” means “prince” and “Kumar” means “son.” Boaz is from India and we talk almost every day about our academic work, our school, our department, our families and much about life in general. (He teaches Old Testament, which I don’t hold against him but it does put limits on things.) I told a story about his wonderful wife, Sarita, in Jesus Creed and we get together as couples as often as we can. And Boaz will be flying off to India this week because his father, an aged man, has taken a turn toward glory. Anyway…
I read this piece in the IHT yesterday morning and got to talk to Boaz about communication styles. The article is not insensitive to stereotypes but knows there are differences that multiculturalism is seeking to illuminate. Sometimes … how should I put this? … well, sometimes, we aren’t tracking. So, the piece about how East and West talks about how we see a picture and how brains work and how culture shapes what we see … all this put things together for us and we chatted and laughed about one another and how we communicate at times.
Here’s an example: when Boaz reports to me about a meeting or an event he can talk and talk and I get more and more impatient and then all of a sudden I’ll say, “Rajah, what was the decision?!” (Argh.) “Oh, Scot, everything turned out great.” Well, I think to myself, why in the world didn’t you just say that? It’s because, as he would put it, he’s East and I’m West (and I’m probably more West than most). I think linear-ly and focus on the logic and the big idea; Boaz doesn’t focus as I do — he paints hues and corners and background of what happened and, doggonit, he might just start with a minor character or an unimportant detail or something rather tangential. Not me — I get right to the point. Which means I don’t give hues and colors and background and atmosphere.
So yesterday we chatted about this and I know we made progress in our communication styles and next time when he asks me what happened … you watch … I’m going to paint something odd and unusual and see if he doesn’t say back to me, “Scot, wow, now I see what happened.” If he says, “What was the decision?,” I’ll say back, “Don’t rush me, Grand Rajah.”
We have to be exceedingly careful about stereotyping folks from East and West, but scientific studies that show Western individualism contrasts with Eastern non-individualism are hardly something new… but just wondering what you are thinking. Experiences like this?