We Asians are often stereotyped as shy and afraid to speak our minds. When asked for our opinion in a group setting, many us say nothing. This leads some westerners to believe we don’t have opinions. When we do voice our opinions, we sometimes only say positive things – leading others to think we’re being dishonest.
I know the terms ‘west’ and ‘east’ are really broad and could apply to just about anyone, so I’ll stick to my own experiences as I tell you my opinion on this delicate matter. I’m a born-and-bred Singaporean currently living in Japan. I completed university in Australia and Israel.
Here are my thoughts on why we Asians are so reluctant to openly say what we think.
1) Family vs Individual
In western societies, the individual is often the basic unit of society. In Asian societies, it’s usually the community. Openly saying what you think and feel doesn’t just reflect on you – but also on your family, school, company, friends etc etc. It’s why people don’t always blather on and on and on. They know their behaviour reflects on more than just themselves.
2) Public vs Private
The best advice anyone ever gave me as a teacher is to ‘praise publicly, scold privately’. I live and die by this adage, even when I’m not in the classroom.
Criticising someone to their face in a public setting in an Asian society is considered humiliation. In societies where community comes before self, openly giving negative feedback in front of one’s peers is damaging one’s reputation in the community and opening the floodgates for others to do the same.
Not good. Not good at all.
3) Saying what you want without offering solutions
Yes – you think you have the right to say what you think and feel. But do I actually have to listen? Yes – you are voicing your opinion, but what solution are you offering? What contribution are you actually making to this conversation? Are you just going blah blah blah because you feel entitled to?
So you still feel entitled to keep talking? Alright, then. Just hold on a second while I get my earplugs…
Oh, I’m sorry – do you think that’s rude?
4) Walk the talk, yo
Speaking of blah blah blah – do you mean what you say or are you just saying whatever and have no intention of actually following through? You can bang on and on about what you believe in – but are you actually acting in a way that is in line with what you’re saying?
If the answer to that is no, then keep talking cause clearly your words are cheap and no one needs to believe them anyway.
If you didn’t already realise, we Asians do have our opinions. In fact, I just told you mine. Just because we don’t advertise what we think in a public forum doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions or are intentionally being dishonest.
For me personally – praise publicly. Scold privately.