Before you read further, pick 2 things from the list to categorize: cow, chicken and grass.

If you choose:

  1. cow and grass – it means you are more contextual. Your choice is based on the relationship of the objects ( cow eats grass)
  2. cow and chicken – it means you are more conceptual. Your choice is based on object categorization ( cow and chicken are animals)
  3. chicken and grass?? – it means you are super confused! (there is no apparent connection between the two, mah). Choose again, dear.

There is a highly contestable theory as to why the above happens, let alone the unintended effect of creating regional stereotypes. Still we are just interested in understanding the idea, right…

Thanks grandpa, can we continue? Oh yes…where did we stop

The socioeconomic and cultural factors that shaped Western and Eastern civilizations formed the crux of the proposed theory. In short,

  • shipping, trading and hunting activities led to a sense of individualism (Western)
  • agricultural activity (i.e. paddy fields) led to a sense of interconnectedness (Eastern)

What’s the big deal? Hunting or agriculture. Individualism or interconnectedness?

  1. A sense of individualism leads to linear methods of understanding objects in isolation. Emphasis is on depths. Development of what I call ‘categorical’ science. E.g. discovery of gravity, atoms, periodic table etc. The cons are isolation of view, single focal object.
  2. A sense of interconnectedness leads to lateral methods of understanding objects as part of the larger and inseparable environment. Emphasis is on breadths. Development of ‘relationship’ science. E.g. Discovered the true reasons for the tides (i.e. interaction of the moon and the earth), feng shui, martial arts, meditation etc. The cons include a more complex view of many interconnected events in a given situation.

I depict the difference as follows.

Western (conceptual) Yin & Yang is categorical. Black is black and white is white. Each is understood separately.

Eastern (contextual) Yin & Yang is relationship based. There is a white dot in the black region and vice versa. The line is curvy and not a straight cut.

Western Yin & Yang           Eastern Yin & Yang

What next?

  1. The truth of the matter is we need both – a conceptual approach (principle-based) to discovering new concepts or frameworks is more effective. We first need to isolate the matter in order to theorize some general rules/ properties. After that, we need to figure out where it belongs in the scheme of things. A contextual approach (situation-based) is then required.
  2. While writing this post, I am duly reminded of what Don Cassidy has said before. Although not intended for this topic if at all (read chicken and grass, haha), I think the motivation of the statement equally applies – “the first level observer sees the results and either enjoys them or does not. Those with second level perception appreciate why success or failure occured. “. In short, don’t fall into the convenient temptation of stereotyping others. (there will always be contextual westerners or conceptual easterners)
  3. Do this to calibrate the cow, chicken and grass test – a conceptual person ( principle-based) will not compromise his/her values. X (e.g. cheating on your spouse)  is bad under all circumstances. A contextual person will reason maybe the environment/situation is to be partly blamed. The person is somehow influenced.

My friends, it then follows that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s cow and grass or it’s cow and chicken or whether it’s an affirmative Eureka or a celestial amitabha; the more meaningful thing to do is this – understand our predominant trait and change where deemed necessary.

12 Replies to “Before you read further, pick 2 things from the list to categorize: cow, chicken and grass.”

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