Bostonia is published in print three times a year and updated weekly on the web. Cons and the Connoisseur When the essay on the blind side on a 1928 Chateau Petrus looks a little funny, who you gonna call? Trauma Peter Burke built a surgical team that could handle any nightmare. On April 15, the nightmare arrived.
Should Chimps Have the Rights of People? What It Means When You Dye Your Hair Purple Should a 20-something information technology specialist, by all accounts a competent employee, be able to dye her long, wavy brown hair purple without getting grief from management? That question was at the heart of the conversation at a recent dinner for a group of intelligent and age-diverse women. Download Audio Version Catherine Caldwell-Harris reads her essay. But I had to dye it back. The group nodded and rolled their eyes in sympathetic outrage.
The owner of the hair didn’t even interact with the public! The business didn’t have a published dress code! To redye hair, it has to be bleached, and that’s a health risk! I’m not hurting anyone else by doing x. Inside, however, I was coming down on the side of management, and here’s why: dyeing your hair purple as a 20-something shows a lack of respect to your managers and fellow employees. You are defiantly not fitting in with the group.
I was also aware that my thoughts about the purple hair incident were very different from what they would have been a few years ago. They were changed by several things, but the most powerful forces were my readings in social and cross-cultural psychology and my experiences in other cultures. Overseas Education It was May 2008. Weeks earlier I had returned from a semester-long sabbatical in China, where I had traveled with my Taiwanese doctoral student for two research projects, both about language, but quite different. Once, during a visit to a local Starbucks, I was startled to see a woman, a foreigner, who appeared to have some sort of facial dysmorphology. The bony protuberances of her cheekbones made me try to remember the name of the disease that could cause it. She was a normal woman with a strong nose and cheekbones, characteristically Germanic features.
Back in Massachusetts, my face recognition system had almost instantly popped back to its normal setting. But the China trip had sensitized me to the virtue of minimizing individualist displays and respecting the desires of those above one in the social hierarchy. As I sat at dinner with my female friends, I thought about the subtle power of social norms and respect for authority. Jonathan Haidt’s five foundations of morality. A researcher in Turkey is helping you translate your sociological questionnaire into Turkish, but she claims that a question on homelessness won’t be understood because homelessness does not exist in Turkey. Many Americans think it is good for all teenagers to have an after-school job, but Indians feel this should be done only if the family needs the money.
An American entrepreneur explains to his elderly Polish relatives that his son has succeeded in business without having his father pull any strings or offer any financial assistance. A graduate student from Kazakhstan has to forgo completing her PhD to return home to earn money so that her nephews can finish high school. The Turks, Indians, elderly Polish, Kazakhs, and Chinese presumably grew up in cultures where a premium was placed on sharing resources with in-group members, and where family members are expected to subordinate their own goals to those of the group. In contrast, individualistic societies are tolerant of nonconformity and celebrate the pursuit of one’s individual goals and self-expression. Cross-cultural psychologists do not view either individualism or collectivism as inherently superior or inferior.
They understand that each system has evolved to solve the problem of how individuals can benefit from living in groups, and they see both systems as having pros and cons. In collectivist societies, the familial ties and deep friendships that arise from never leaving your hometown and investing daily in relationship management provide a buffer against loneliness and depression. The downside is that collectivist cultures can have an oppressive small-town mentality that punishes nonconformists who challenge religious, gender, or sex role norms. As a liberal, I spent many years holding conservative values in contempt. Hold men and women to different standards of sexual behavior? Enact legislation to help those who were already successful keep their wealth? I learned about as part of doing cross-cultural research and living overseas.