Embracing cultural diversity
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.