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Jim Stroup


Conversations and relationships – this is a big topic – something you have a knack for opening. As an American living in Istanbul, I am often called upon to answer for the impression people get that violence is so prominent a part of our culture. I try to explain that much of it originates in the flip side of the coin of individualism that is the source of so much of our strength and that has helped us contribute so much.

Societies in this part of the world are organized, generally, in accordance with one form or another of collectivism. That is, a collective group is viewed as the entity of account – family, clan, tribe. Indeed, when I lived and travelled deeper in the Middle East, I sometimes had an eerie feeling that I wasn't speaking with individuals, but being regarded by one face of a many-faceted eye, each of which was consulting with and integrating the impressions of the world gathered by the others.

It can be disorienting for us in the West, particularly in the US, to be confronted with this sort of experience. But we should be careful to avoid the impression we so easily assume that we have figured it all out, or, at least, that we are on the only track worth pursuing – or further along it – for effective organization of society. For example, I'm from Detroit, and am often puzzled that people would express concern from my safety when I move from a city with its reputation to one like Istanbul, which is both the biggest and the safest city in Europe.

No question about it, we have learned a lot, and have stumbled upon a good deal more that is of value; we should work to share it with the world. But we ought to do it with some humility, and be on the lookout for lessons there to be learned by us – they are there to be found aplenty. Moreover, we should not be surprised that as our cultural values spread around the world, they bear fruit of all kinds. This, really, is what is behind much of the cultural backlash we face overseas.

As sad a part as any of this is that the perpetrator at Virginia Tech was from one of these collectivist cultures, committing his heinous act in our individualist culture. With this puzzle in mind, your readers may want to see this opinion piece from the WSJ by a Korean observer (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117736555268279563.html?mod=opinion_main_europe_asia), justifying the relentlessly collectivist expression of grief and sorrow over this event to a puzzled American population.

Conversations and relationships are the building blocks of societies and organizations as well, and entering into them fully – contributing, observing, listening – certainly does make us both more productive and safer on so many levels. An important topic and important points; thank you for opening it, and for offering them.


I agree with you Steve. Good conversation builds healthy relationship. Sometimes it is very difficult to judge a person. Once you judged him and have some trust, you will feel like sharing your personal info with him because you feel comfortable with them. But sometimes, it turns on the other side too. My point is not to up set with this, and move forward till you find good people. Great post Steve, as usual. YOu have told this in a very positive way. Thanks for posting. Viji

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