Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Path: Understanding Culture

Culture has a tremendous influence on how we communicate and interact with others. Cultures differ, some more than others. Korean culture has been my life long quest.

The Path
My path to understanding Asian culture began in the 1960s. As a teen, I was drawn to the martial arts of China, Japan, and Korea. In 1972, this was spurred by reading Zen and the Art of Archery. In the 1920s, German professor of philosophy Eugen Herrigel traveled to Japan. While there, Herrigel sought to better comprehend Zen Buddhism, which led him to the art of the Japanese bow, kyudo. A classic, Zen and the Art of Archery describes Herrigel's experiences studying the traditional warrior art.

The book gave me my first insights into the Asian mind. Like Herrigel, nearly four decades of traditional Korea-centered martial arts practice has allowed me first-hand insight into Asian philosophy, tradition, customs, and protocols. ( Click photo to enlarge). 

Language and Culture
Years of close association with Koreans added to my practical knowledge of Korea. However, it has been learning the language that allowed a much deeper grasp of the culture. Language and culture are inseparable. Outside the interaction and respect one gains in speaking another language, many concepts unique to a culture fail to translate well. Understanding Korean has given me sensitivities into how Koreans think and communicate.

My Korean name and title: 던 서들턴 사장/CEO

History, People, and Society
As a historian, I have been attracted to Korea’s past. I have come to realize that history helps us understand people and societies. So, looking at Korea’s past aids in grasping its modern society. It also helps understand what shapes change.

Looking to China
With the close historic ties between China and Korea, my years devoted to Korea have given me considerable insights into China. Seeing a need to further my understanding, over the past few years I’ve begun to look closely at China. In addition, to hours of study on current economic, political, and business issues, I have followed the learning model developed for Korea. This includes frequent chats with Chinese colleagues, complimented by intense Chinese language and martial arts study.

My Chinese name: 蘇 東 Su Dong ( to awake; the East)

To conclude, cross-cultural understanding takes considerable effort, study, and time. For westerners, gaining cultural insights into Korean culture and its changing workplace can be a challenge. Different backgrounds, customs, and language compound the problem. Nevertheless, it is a very rewarding quest. A path, I encourage you to take.

Don Southerton

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