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The twenty first Century has witnessed integration and increased cultural interaction among people on a previously unprecedented scale. The intercultural communication that has resulted from human interaction has resulted in some problems since different cultures have different norms and value systems and hence communication between people of various cultures may at times be hampered.
However, despite the efforts at making intercultural communication less hectic, there still exist some concepts which are particular to certain cultures.
These concepts at times hinder communication efforts since they are not universally acknowledged. The cultural difference argument (CDA) suggests that “we should be tolerant of other cultures’ moral practices because different cultures have assorted moral codes therefore there is no universal truth when it comes to morality.”
As such, the conclusion forwarded by this statement emphasizes on the nature of moral facts as well as what people believe to be the truth. This paper shall set out to argue that the statement though persuasive, is illogical. To reinforce this claim, this paper shall discuss how the concept of ‘face’ influences interactions among Chinese people and how it results in misunderstandings and slows down progress in some instances.
Cultural Difference Argument: A brief overview
The CDA is based on the premise that different cultures follow different moral guidelines and conclusively asserts that whether actions are right or wrong is a matter of opinion since there is no “neutral” truth in morality (Rachels 20). However, the conclusion does not seem to be in line with the premise.
From a deeper perspective, the premise is concerned with people’s beliefs that ultimately constitutes to their cultures. However, the conclusion does not follow from this premise but instead, dwells on the realities regarding this matter (the truth behind such beliefs). Using a practical example, face is an important Chinese cultural concept and its implication is felt in all aspects of the Chinese person’s life.
According to David Yau Fai (as cited by Quimin D and Yu-Feng 2007), face is “a concept of central importance because of its pervasiveness with which it asserts its influence in social intercourse (401).”
[As a result,] it is virtually impossible to think of a facet of social life to which the question of face is irrelevant.” Face therefore dictates all social interaction for all people of China irrespective of their social, political or economic status. In this regard, the CDA suggests that since this is a moral practice to the Chinese, other cultures should tolerate this practice.
However, other cultures may not agree with these sentiments. The fact that there is a disagreement regarding this notion does not necessarily mean that there is no objective truth in it. However, it only suggests that the practice is objectively right or wrong (depending on culture) and that one side may be mistaken about the belief (Rachels 24).
The fundamental mistake that has been revealed by this statement stems from the fact that the CDA tries to derive an absolute conclusion about morality on the assertion that different people view it differently. Simply because people share different opinions (disagree), does not mean that there is no objective truth in their arguments.
It only means that in their beliefs, either of the parties may be wrong. It is therefore reasonable to argue that the fact that morality or truth exists does not mean that everyone must know it. As such, the CDA is illogical.
Another example that disputes the argument lies in the art of communication. Most cultures assume that each person can best advance their interest when the situation at hand is thoroughly understood by means of direct verbal communication (Wenzhong & Grove 124). This assumption results in the adoption of directness in interpersonal communications.
This is not the case in Chinese culture which places greater emphasis in preserving harmony. The Chinese are therefore only direct in the occasion where no one including themselves is at a risk of losing face. In the event where there is a risk of any party losing face, the Chinese will result to indirect verbal communication or even blatant lying so as to save face. From this example, another concrete argument against the validity of CDA can be derived. In most cases people from all cultures do share some common values.
For example, loosing face is indeed a major concern in most conversation. In addition, telling the truth is a value shared by all cultures. As such, it would be wrong to suggest that due to cultural differences, there is no objective truth or morality. Despite our different cultural backgrounds, there exist various values that are shared by all cultures. As such, they can be considered as objective truths, values or morals.
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Evidently, the fact that people may disagree on various practices and issues does not necessarily mean that there is no objective truth within the issue. It only shows that some societies may have misguided beliefs therefore making their practices wrong. As such, the cultural difference argument; though persuasive, strays in its conclusion that we should tolerate some moral practices practiced by other cultures simply because we disagree with what they represent.
In this regard, the conclusion suggested by the cultural difference argument cannot be out rightly declared as a false argument. However, what this paper suggests is that the conclusion does not logically support the premise of the argument and that to prove the conclusion as a statement of fact, more arguments needs to be drafted in its support.
Cultural practices are complex and dynamic and therefore no one way can be proposed as solving all the problems involving cultural diversity in any context. From the discussions presented in this paper, it is clear that the concept of face in Chinese results in numerous complications which impede on the interactive efforts in the intercultural settings. While a concern for face exists in all cultures, the Chinese preoccupation with face which has resulted in face taking center stage in all aspects of a Chinese person’s life.
However, such moral practices should not be tolerated since a reduction in emphasis on face by the Chinese can have a positive impact on the intercultural communication efforts leading to a more harmonic world Drawing a more compelling conclusion regarding the cultural difference argument, it can be authoritatively stated that despite our cultural differences, tolerance to some moral practices is a matter of opinion.
In addition, it is evident that truth and morality are objective (depending on belief system in play). This fact dismisses the conclusion of the CDA which suggests that there is no objective truth regarding to these subjects.
Quimin, Dong and Yu-Feng Lee. The Chinese concept of face: a perspective for business communicators. 2003. Web.06 February 2011. http://www.swdsi.org/swdsi07/2007_proceedings/papers/401.pdf
Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.
Wenzhong, Hu and Cornelius Grove. Encountering the Chinese: a guide for Americans. USA: Intercultural Press, 1999. Print.