[x]Blackmoor Vituperative

Monday, 2011-08-29

Subtext and misplaced enthusiasm

Filed under: General — bblackmoor @ 11:27

I read an article a while back comparing how Japanese people express emotion in public to how Americans express emotion in public. The gist of it was that Americans tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves, while Japanese people generally don’t. That’s probably not news to anyone with a passing familiarity with Japanese media.

However, an interesting side effect of this is how Americans and Japanese people tend to interpret the emotions of others, based on what the other person is expressing. Japanese people, according to the study I was reading, tend to assume that people are feeling more than they are displaying, when compared to how Americans would interpret the same person’s behaviour. There is (according to that study) a common cultural bias in Japan, and everyone adjusts their perceptions up accordingly. Or, to put it another way, there is a common cultural bias toward excessive displays of emotion in the United States, and Americans reduce their perception of the other person’s emotional state accordingly.

(I am giving the study I read astonishingly short shrift. If you want a scholarly evaluation, there have been a number of studies done on the topic, and you’ll have no trouble finding some.)

This came to mind recently when someone assumed I was insulting them when I expressed enthusiasm over something. I said, effectively, “This is awesome! Check this out!”. The other person interpreted this as, “You are an idiot if you don’t try this!”

I freely admit that I sometimes get wound up about things — quite often, things that have no real importance. I am a fount of misplaced enthusiasm.

However, if I think someone is an idiot, I generally say so. My personal bias is that I say pretty much what I think, and I expect that others are doing the same. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether people are sincere: I assume they are until I find out differently. I think this is a good way to live. If you trust too much, you will occasionally be deceived, but you will live in torment if you cannot trust enough.

However, I have known for many years that not everyone shares this cultural bias. Some people do, in fact, mean “you’re an idiot if you don’t like waffles” when they say “I like waffles”. And so, they expect that other people mean that, too. They project onto others their own nature.

I think that’s really sad. I can’t imagine how dismal it must be to live in a world like that.