Em­brac­ing cul­tural diver­sity

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HIGHER EDUCATION -

HU­MANS work to­wards gain­ing the ideal life, one which is shaped by cul­ture and up­bring­ing.

In 2008, cul­tural psy­chol­o­gist Dr Gre­gory Bonn set out to try and an­a­lyse the cul­tural im­pli­ca­tions on a per­son’s vi­su­al­i­sa­tion of a good life.

He dis­cov­ered that the en­vi­ron­ment which a per­son is raised plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in shap­ing the world view and iden­tity.

“As a cul­tural psy­chol­o­gist, I ap­proach the study of psy­chol­ogy from the stand­point of cul­ture.” said Dr Bonn, a lec­turer of psy­chol­ogy in the Jef­frey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Monash Univer­sity Malaysia.

To cre­ate a psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance in his re­search, Dr Bonn and his team of re­searchers asked 400 re­spon­dents from four dif­fer­ent coun­tries to imag­ine them­selves as 80 to 85 year-olds, re­flect­ing on their lives.

They were asked to write down six things that they con­sider as de­ter­min­ing fac­tors of whether or not their lives were ideal.

The re­spon­dents were di­vided into Euro­pean Cana­di­ans, Asian Cana­di­ans, South Asian Cana­di­ans and Chi­nese.

Dr Bonn dis­cov­ered that there were quite a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups rep­re­sented.

“Cana­di­ans were more con­cerned or in­ter­ested in self-ex­pres­sion, like meet­ing their po­ten­tial, be­ing in­de­pen­dent trav­ellers and so on, com­pared to the other groups.

“The Chi­nese were more likely to have prac­ti­cal con­cerns, while South Asians em­pha­sised spir­i­tual and eth­i­cal con­cerns,” he said.

There was a de­gree of cul­tural blend­ing for re­spon­dents who were eth­ni­cally Asians liv­ing in a Western en­vi­ron­ment, said Dr Bonn.

“Though Chi­nese Cana­di­ans fo­cused on things such as fam­ily and achiev­ing fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity, they’d also like to date more. This shows an ob­vi­ous in­flu­ence from their peers,” he said.

But what in­trigued him was dis­cov­er­ing that the groups fo­cused their an­swers around re­la­tion­ships.

“For all groups, the top five as­pects of how they en­vi­sioned an ideal life would in­clude sev­eral items that were re­la­tional,” said Dr Bonn.

“It was in­ter­est­ing to see that hav­ing strong re­la­tion­ships built the core of what peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures view as hav­ing a happy life.”

There were also im­por­tant dif­fer­ences be­tween Asian groups.

The Chi­nese fo­cused on par­entchild re­la­tions while the Ja­panese placed strong em­pha­sis on close friend­ships or peer re­la­tions.

“What I found in this re­search is that for peo­ple ev­ery­where, re­la­tion­ships are of cen­tral im­por­tance.

“Also, just as im­por­tant is that there is def­i­nitely not a sin­gle Asian way of un­der­stand­ing the world.”

Dr Bonn be­lieves that his re­search can help bridge the dif­fer­ent cul­tures that ex­ist within a multi-racial so­ci­ety.

“In any so­ci­ety, it al­ways helps to un­der­stand where the other per­son is com­ing from, be­cause that un­der­stand­ing helps to re­duce fric­tion,” he said.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ences be­tween peo­ple and how they arise, but it’s also crit­i­cal to re­mem­ber that we all share a good deal of com­mon ground.

“At Monash Malaysia, I try to get stu­dents to think more about what they be­lieve is im­por­tant, where those ideas might have come from, and also what other peo­ple might be­lieve and why.

“The more we con­sider th­ese is­sues, the more we can move be­yond out­dated stereo­types and be­gin un­der­stand­ing each other.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, speak to coun­sel­lors at 03-5514 6000 / 013200 5572, or visit www.monash.edu. my. March 2014 in­take is now open for en­rol­ment.

Dr Bonn says psy­chol­o­gists are dis­cov­er­ing that our way of think­ing and be­lief sys­tem is re­lated to many fac­tors such as peers, teach­ers and all the other groups we in­ter­act with.

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