One afternoon after class, during a friendly conversation, one of my Caucasian friends mentioned how he did not understand the reason why the Korean people prayed out loud all at the same time (통성기도; Tong-Sung Prayer). It was a legitimate question for him since he was not as familiar with the Korean cultural leanings of holding onto the traditional aspects of life more so than conducting life actions, if you will, for functional purposes. He came from a western culture that emphasizes individual function and could not see the purpose of praying out loud all at once. For a Korean, it is more of a tradition and I assume it emphasizes the unity of the praying body (I also think it is in line with the emotional expression of ‘Han’ (‘한’) which is a difficult emotion to express in any other language or culture). Less apparent than such cultural differences are cultural gaps that lie between two different generations of the same race. It is less apparent but not so dissimilar to the aforementioned example of my friend’s difficulty in understanding the Korean style of prayer. The generational gap that was discussed in the two previous posts (Part 1, Part 2), are not just a result of difference in language. Cultures change through generations, arguably more so for immigrant cultures, and misunderstandings and surprise arise even within the same family members when we fail to acknowledge this change (sometimes the clash arises even with the acknowledgement but that is for the next post).
The typical second generation Asian-American, in their upbringing and education, has been more immersed in the individualized western perspective and culture, while the typical first generation Asian immigrant remain in their original culture even if they have lived in America for over a decade due to their refusal, for whatever reason, to assimilate into American culture (look at any Chinatowns in America). The gap then becomes apparent when we move past the sameness of our skin and analyze the actual cultural forces that have nurtured our worldviews. It would be beneficial to first understand the difference in cultural perspectives. One example that helps us understand this difference lies in the realm of choosing our vocation. The second generation Asian-American, I believe, would largely follow the wider American culture and use the mantra of “follow your passions” or “do what you like/enjoy” in thinking about choosing a vocation. The immigrant generation (note this based on anecdotal evidence) would generally find the ‘follow your passions’ sentiment not as determinative in discovering a vocation. For the older generations, the order is flipped, one chooses a vocation and then can begin to like it (Of course, they are not as naive to say that this always occurs, but this is the perspective out of which they think). Then, can this gap between generations be bridged by a mutual understanding of each others culture (i.e. an increase in knowledge of the other’s culture or perspective)? Yes, but only in part.
We can bridge it more fully if we begin to understand that this difference has a moral foundation and justification. Behind the affinity of western cultures for individualism and eastern cultures for social identity are underlining moral justifications, if you will. When the son in the initial dialogue (from part 1) was touting individual passion as the primary reason for pursuing Broadway acting, he was ascribing to it a value. In essence, he was saying fulfilling his passion was the most important criterion to fulfill when it comes to the topic of career. On the other hand, the father saw most value in the image that higher education presents to society and to him that was all important. The cultural gap is difficult to bridge because of these basic underlying preconceived notions of value (i.e. morals). But even with the acknowledgment of underlying value (and I must add for the Christian reader, neither Western individualism nor Eastern traditionalism is necessarily biblical), it may not be enough to bridge the generational gap. It may bring us closer, but there is one question that remains keeping the gap unbridged: ‘Whose notion of value is correct?’
The answering of that question to be continued….