This is part two of a guest post started here.
Language and how people use it, I have learned, is very much a function of cultural values. Language takes on a crucial role in most everyday situations in a country that idolizes personal expression. It also becomes important when your culture is built on a ‘flat’ authority structure, often requiring you to argue your side and win allies rather than simply ‘pulling rank’ to make decisions.
Conversely, if you find yourself in a Confucian-based society built on hierarchy, a leader doesn’t require such lingual persuasion or volume of speech. To be on the right track, the subordinates need only observe their premier through non-verbal means and follow his ‘way’, or so the ancients believed. Talking therefore is one of MULTIPLE arrows in the Eastern quiver, rather than THE arrow in most of the Western world today.
(As an aside, in Singapore, the enigma is deepened by a software and hardware issue. If you speak English, then for the most part you speak the same language as everyone here (hardware). And yet there’s much more going on inside the emotional circuits of locals – a lot of software layers that are deep and unseen to the foreigner.)
Hands down it’s easier to be an introvert here than in the West, I believe. It’s said that an Asian’s sense of space is in his mind, whereas his Western counterpart seeks out a physical space to feel at peace. But no matter how you find your zen, people are generally less pressured in East Asian culture to project themselves verbally, which is, admittedly, also nice at times (even for an Extro).
And yet I find myself facing a problem at times, of lacking consistent ‘sound boards’, to journey with through an issue verbally to the point of conclusion. While a quieter lunch table is all well and peaceful, sometimes I truly need the tactful verbal assistance of another person to dialogue with so I can know what I’m thinking. There’s little an extrovert fears more than a mind full of half-processed thoughts and no one to share them with. Unlike the introvert whose assembly line is often more internal, the extrovert is often still putting exhaust pipes on his ideas as they come conveyoring out his mouth.
And while talking is generally a cathartic enterprise for an extrovert, it’s not as if we need to exercise the ability continuously. In my own anecdotal evidence, even a single 15-30 minute conversation with some good back and forth from both parties is enough to stimulate me for a whole work day. Having satiated my ‘fix,’ I’m then free to NOT talk and can come at my work with increased focus and drive. To be certain, the extrovert is more dependent in a way than his introvert counterpart in that the extrovert’s need can only be met by others through language. And the value of even that one conversation cannot be understated. And what’s the warning sign is all’s not well? If your extrovert friend isn’t talking, you should probably ask them why.
So the next time you’re with your colleagues dipping into a bowl of fried noodles with some chopsticks in a crowded food court – look up, and around. Find the extroverts among you and just say any old thing that comes to your mind. They’ll probably appreciate the effort.
Because surely it’s better to talk than to not talk. Right?