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We walk together - but who is in front?

posted 22 Oct 2010, 00:07 by Unknown user   [ updated 22 Oct 2010, 00:13 ]
I recently attended a Round Square conference with a theme of 'We walk together', which had some excellent speakers and sessions. Two of the speakers were really inspirational. Peter Dalglish, who is the founder of Street Kids International, plus Father Joseph Maier who is a very amusing Catholic priest and founder of the Human Development Foundation that schools 4,000 slum children. These two speakers seemed to have endless energy and drive to make a difference. Both their themes were along the same line - we can all make a difference.

Over lunch I sat with some Australian delegates and listened to their views on how they could incorporate what they had heard in their efforts to integrate their form of street kids, Aborigines, into their society. They were discussing how they could make a difference. Their collective view was that Australia's indigenous people needed to drop their cultural difference to be able to live the new Australian way of life. Some recent neuro research sprang to mind and this, coupled with how I think the Western way is affecting our world, had me questioning the views of the delegates and speakers.

Recent research states that scientists have been surprised at how deeply culture shapes the brain. An example is the medial prefrontal cortex that represents the self: it is active when westerners think of their own identity and traits. But with Chinese volunteers, the results were strikingly different with the "me" circuit humming not only when they thought whether a particular adjective described themselves, but also when they considered whether it described their mother. Westerners showed no such overlap between self and mom', (Begley 2010).

Also, comparing the East with the West from living in both regions and being a Westerner married to an Asian for nearly twenty years, I suggest that there are massive differences in the way the brain operates and our behaviour. Westerners are far more dopamine based - self orientated and personal goal focused as shown by the above research. Asians and probably other regions of the world are far more family based or social goal orientated, again as per the research. But why is this? I believe that it is a result of the security blanket that is in place in the Western World.

Health insurance, pensions, unemployment benefit, accident cover, maternity leave, plus many other types of personal protection. In Asia this is your family. When you are young in Asia you are totally dependent on your parents or relatives. When you are in mid-life you turn to your siblings. And when you are old you go to your grown up children houses, maybe even living with them for your final years. There are no nursing homes in Asia. This Asian family based culture also has a massive influence on both language and attitude. And, it is not just the direct relatives, but spans across friends, people of the same race and even animals. Some nations even use the title sister or brother with people who they come into regular contact with as alternative to the western Mr, Master, Mrs or Miss. The constant use of familial language greatly promotes and maintains this cultural trait. In the western world the state and your policies are your family in times of need.

So, is incorporating these 'less advanced cultures' into the western society correct? Research has also shown that the social reward that is secreted into the blood stream and brain, Oxytocin is far healthier than the personal reward chemicals such as dopamine. So, being social actually promotes a good life. We all know how much stress there is in the western world with large debt, pressure at work, and the massive detrimental effects of the stress from living in the rat race.

Consequently, I would suggest that these social based cultures should be teaching the western world how to behave; what values to adopt; and how to live with one another. Maybe, the delegates should try walk together with the people they are trying to help with the aim of learning, not converting. But as almost all the western world sees itself at the forefront of life, I guess they will still think they should be at the front taking the most direct routes as instructed by their new GPS enabled phone, rather that following the group who are enjoying the walk and each others company! So, we walk together - but who should be at the front??