Guest post by Jay Sandidge
As I prepare for reentry into the USA, I am reflecting over these past two years in Asia.
One fundamental difference between the West and the East is a particular culture’s placement on what I will call the individuality-community spectrum.
To visualize this spectrum, imagine a line with the individual on the far left and the community on the far right. Each culture will fall somewhere on that line. The closer a culture is to the left, the more highly they value individuality over community, for instance.
The US arguably falls farther left on that spectrum than any other major country or culture whereas a country like Japan is far right because they consider the interests of the community many times before they consider their own individual interests.
I had one of those epiphany moments when I was traveling with my colleague from Japan. She pointed out gracefully that I introduce myself by leading with my first name followed by my surname (family name) followed by the company I work for. In other words, the most communal in that hierarchy (organization) comes last whereas the most individual, my first name, is stated first.
In Japan, and most of Asia, this is done in reverse. She introduces herself by stating she is with Positronic (organization), followed by her family name and lastly, she states her given name. One-hundred and eighty degrees opposite of the US.
How This Relates to COVID
This is not just academic. It partially explains why COVID has been harder to contain and manage in the West than it has in the East. In individualistic societies, we recoil at the thought of sacrificing an individual freedom for the good of the community.
Enter the face mask debate in parts of the US. In the East, people find it inexplicable that a person would refuse to wear a face mask if it offers some reasonable level of disease prevention within the community.
And I understand that perspective.
We have all sorts of laws in the US that protect the individual from him or herself. Consider seat belt laws, helmet laws.
We also have laws that prevent individual rights from adversely impacting the community. Consider smoking. Smoking is all but banned in virtually every public place in the US even including outdoor, open air areas.
Individualistic societies just get uncomfortable, in general, when the government imposes another law that aims to limit what is perceived as personal “freedom”. That’s really what this face mask business is about. It’s proxy resistance, in my opinion.
Don’t Make It Political
And like virtually every other hot topic in the US, the issue has been politicized. So, citizens are being force fed biases by various media outlets, talking heads and politicians – both conservative and liberal. This outside force acting on an individual’s thought process can often lead to nonsensical conclusions.
I would ask my fellow conservatives to consider two points. Firstly, shouldn’t our Christian values push our society a little closer towards the center of the so-called individuality-community spectrum?
I suspect the early Church was very communal in its worldview orientation.
See The Other Side
Secondly, as I have aged, I have learned that in almost every situation where I have a strong opinion, there is an opposing viewpoint that actually makes sense when I take the time to listen. And, behind every opposing viewpoint is an actual person with a history, with a family.
That doesn’t mean this person changes my position, but it does mean that through respectful conversation, I can at least understand a different, human perspective.
There are countless things I don’t know and I don’t understand. Unfortunately, the American political system and its related discourse, has been turned into a high-stakes game of who wins and who loses.
For those of us with a Christian value system, we should make better efforts to resist the temptation to play the game. It’s not helping our individual cause or our communal one.