What We Can Learn from Non-Western Cultures

All cultures are social creations. They can vary greatly from one area to another. Around the world, there are countless areas with different customs, traditions, family structures, and beliefs about how the world works. And many of them are quite different from what we are accustomed to in our Western culture.

One of the commonly agreed-upon differences between western and non-western culture is their degree of individualism. In the Western world, people are generally defined by their individual careers and accomplishments. Many people in Eastern cultures, however, are defined by their family and social connections above all else.

Eastern cultures are also more collective. They value doing things for others and not so much for themselves. For example, in Japan, known to be one of the world’s most collectivist cultures, it is more honorable to be doing something to help your family than to be doing something to benefit yourself.

Having had the experience of spending much of my childhood in the Eastern European country of Bulgaria, and the rest of my life in the United States, I can draw some conclusions of my own. I have noted several key differences between the Eastern and Western lifestyles.

People in Eastern cultures generally spend more time with their family and children. It is not uncommon to take three months of vacation time per year. It is also very common for all the generations of a family to live together. The older generations that may be at or near retirement look after the children while their parents go to work. Retirement homes and day care are not as common as common as they are in Western cultures. I was taken care of mostly by my grandparents, never by sitters. People also put more emphasis on getting to know all their neighbors and their communities.

As a result, people in eastern cultures seem less stressed in a lot of ways. They have a big social safety net. The less career-focused outlook has its upsides. Critics may point out that it doesn’t lead to a particularly productive economy, but it has the potential to leave more room for quality time with the important people in their lives, which makes them rich in a different way.

A lot of people living in Western cultures tend to have the problem of feeling isolated. They may be suspicious or negligent of their neighbors, and spend a lot of time at work or at a computer. In turn, they develop strong relationships with their coworkers, to which family sometimes has to take a second seat.

I believe there are a few concepts of non-Western cultures that we can learn from. First, try spending more time with your family and friends. This is not to say you should immediately drop your goals and move back into your parent’s basement! What we learn from non-Western families is that our value can be drawn from more than just our accomplishments and our individual work ethic. It can be drawn from our relationships as well. Putting more time into your relationships, either by  calling your parents, skyping with  a friend who lives far away, spending some time with young children you know, or catching up with people you haven’t seen in a concerted effort, can increase your happiness and your satisfaction in life

Another point we take from non-Western families is that it is also very helpful to take some time to recharge and recuperate. Instead of using one vacation day here and there, save up and use them for a long trip with close relations. Extended vacation time puts one in a better state of mind and will help you perform better when you have to get back to work. You can be far more productive and successful when rested and in a good mood!

photo by Gatanass

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