Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner, the authors of Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, call themselves cultural psychologists. They study “how different cultures help create different ways of being a person” which they call the different “selves.” Then they study how these different selves help create different cultures. This dual process is what they call the “culture cycle.”
Since conflict is often the result of a failure of an individual self to understand the dynamics of another culture, an awareness of our own culture and its effects on our selves, as well as an understanding of other cultures and their effects on the selves of their members will be invaluable not only in dealing with conflict, but in creating generally positive relationships between different individuals from different, sometimes antagonistic cultures. They work with the assumption that in the “chaos” of individual selves there is a “basic order.” “For all the varieties of self inside you, we find that most of them sort into two basic styles: independent and interdependent.” Moreover, this dialectic of styles in the self is replicated in the culture. Indeed the self and the culture feed each other as a condition of the “culture cycle.”
Conflict arises when independent and interdependent cultural values clash. Markus and Conner spend the bulk of their book analyzing the eight cultural conflicts of the title: East vs. West, Global North vs. Global South, Men vs. Women, Rich vs. Poor, Private Business vs. Government, White vs. People of Color, Conservative vs. Liberal Religion, and Coastal United States vs. Heartland. So for example, jn the conflict between men and women, the male self is independent, the female interdependent; in the conflict between races, whites are independent, people of color are interdependent. Now while we may want to argue about this kind of “yin/yang” duality as simplistic, or even as a kind of stereotyping, Markus and Conner cite study after study, experiment after experiment to support their thesis, so it really can’t be dismissed out of hand.
They do point out that neither all independence, nor all interdependence is equal. The interdependence characteristic of the culture of India isn’t necessarily the same as that of the American woman. What they have in common is a core that privileges their relationships as part of their selves. “Independent folks,” on the other hand, “everywhere see their selves as separate from and prior to their relationships.”
Moreover, conflict doesn’t result because one cultural style is better than another, conflict is the result of one culture’s failure to recognize and respect the other’s values. The key to conflict resolution or even better avoidance is to harmonize your cultural style with that of the other. Independence and interdependence are not set in stone; both styles can be tweaked. Know yourself. Know the other. Analyze what you have to do and say to work amiably together. In the end, it sounds like simple common sense.
Perhaps too simple. The idea that all of humanity, all of our institutions, and all of our cultural values fit into this two part schema seems too neat. Somehow, these black and white categories, fail to take due note of all the gray that more often than not characterizes human activity. We have learned from experience to be wary of either/or formulas. Choice is rarely, if ever, that limited. A bit more complexity combined with a mite more subtlety would go a long way to bolstering their argument.