Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cross Cultural Inter-Generational Gap of managing people.

Picture this scenario. Three men stood in the middle of the road to picket about something. Police cars could be seen with flashlights turned on, and the police personnel could be seen bringing these three men to the side of the road and taking down notes. If a similar situation were to happen in Malaysia, (or any part of Asia for that instance), the police would have just thrown the same three men into lock-up!

Now, let me give you another scenario. When I was at work at a childcare recently near Bondi, this is what happened when the children were having their outdoor play. One of the children was carrying a camera, and she had ventured out into the playground.
Adult D: Hei, could you pass this camera to CY? (pointing to me).
Child then proceeds to pass the camera to me.
much later....the child comes out with Adult D. She has tears in her eyes.
Adult J: Oh, I am sorry, D. I had promised the child that I was going to give her the camera to take photos today.
Adult D: (who then proceeds to talk to the child). Oh dear, I am sorry. I didn't realise that Adult. J had promised to give you the camera to use, and I had asked you to give to CY. Perhaps you could let her have it for a while, and then she'll pass it back to you later..

Now, to an Australian, that scenario may be nothing out of the ordinary. However to someone of Asian upbringing (and in an Asian country), that is something peculiarly foreign! Of course, when I look at this situation, I am actually viewing it through the lens of an Asian, rather than as someone who is brought up and understand the philosophies & mindset of the Australian upbringing.

If most Asian teachers were to face the same scenario in an Asian context, the normal practice would be that apologizing would not be found in the books. Then again, this scenario would not even happen. For one, the asian teacher would not even allow the child to hold the camera, much less apologize to the child! At least that is what I know about most Asian parents & individuals for the experience. However, I would say to the least, actually the same may apply for Australians. Depending on their age group.

An example of personal experience would be when I was out last year on a primary school practicum where the teacher (who is a single lady in her late 40s-early 50s) who manages the classroom in a style which may not seem "politically correct" to someone who may be in her early 20s. The style that this elderly lady used to manage her classroom reminds me of the way a traditional structured Asian classroom would be managed (I can attest to that, since I am Asian!).

I have had a mate from India (he's in his 30s) who had an elderly Aussie man who struck up a conversation with him wanting to know if they did the same in India, and continuing to say that that in his time, they were allowed to trash the children but they are no longer allowed to do that anymore. Even young boys & some men in trains have been seen to openly swear and use bad language in front of young ladies, women and the elderly.

Recently I was chatting online with this white Aussie friend of mine who had just spent the last 7 months in Hong Kong what he perceived of the society there. His very words were "parents only give their children attention when their children do well in their studies". His perceptions are very true, as this not only applies in Hong Kong, but in most asian countries including India, Malaysia and most definitely Singapore!

People are not looked on as individuals in the asian society. The way that asian parents interact with children is generally not positive to begin with. An example would be viewing children's work of art. A typical asian remark from the parent/adult would of a scrawling of a 3-4 year old would not be "Wow, it's so pretty", but "what's that?" or "stop scrawling, and do some proper writing!".

In general, I do think its the different way that Aussies talk to each other, with that general & deprecating sense of humour. Even the parents do that with the children, and basically talk with the children like individuals or have fun joking with them. For someone who has been here for two over years, I still find it difficult to comprehend. Perhaps Asians are just more serious and reserved until they have known another person for a while before opening up.

Although this "individualism" is something that I do admire in the western way of approach to managing people, I did not realise the extent of how they actually demonstrated it. In a way, the western way of treating people like individuals can be admired, but by the same token of behaviour, it is MUCH MORE difficult for asians who have not had a similar upbringing to fully comprehend it.

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