Essays

The Chinese Mind and Yours

Every once in awhile I must stop and remind myself that my wife is Chinese. I don’t mean that in a racial sense or even her outward appearance. I mean it in a cultural sense in terms of her ethnicity. In America, most Chinese, like my daughters, don’t have this. They were born into their American ethnicity. I am making a broader point here because we often judge others by our own ethnic standards. Others being other individuals and other organizations. That very self-centered view limits our ability to objectively make rational decisions for either.

            Getting back to my wonderful wife as my case study, I think she does things I like or dislike by my ethnic standards. However, I have come to learn how wrong I may be. My wife spent her formative years in mainland China. Being Chinese is not just using chopsticks instead of a knife and fork. I have learned from personal experience that she and I may perceive any given action, activity through a different lens.

            A Chinese person, who is functioning in America, as a citizen or a visiting businessperson, is one who reads in both languages. I read from left to right in paragraphs. They can also read in columns from right to left. That is the complete inverse. The list of what they do differently and simultaneously is too long to go into. Leave it to say that you need to work this into your mental calculation about any person of any other ethnic persuasion. What you think the they think maybe very wrong-headed.

            This is about your doing a very objective situational analysis of your everyday interpersonal and inter-organizational activities. What you think is going on may be the complete inverse of what is really happening. In business, that could be a very big and costly mistake. Such understanding either internally or externally benefits you because you make better organizational decisions and the person comes to appreciate you.

            One only needs to think about the astonished reaction and happy reception to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, delivering his speech at Tsinghua University (Beijing, 2015) in Mandarin. You have to wonder how much of his success in building his organization, let alone his marriage, is due in part to this bi-cultural understanding of his organizational reality.

            Cultural mindfulness is not just about ethnicity. It also applies to your interaction with another person in terms of gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic and regional upbringing, etc. As the Great Chinese Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”