Friday, September 28, 2012

Will Miss #491 - high interpersonal tolerance

Recently, I had an exchange with someone that revealed something I knew based on experience in Japan, but hadn't conceptualized in a concrete manner or verbalized. We all hear again and again that Japan is an intolerant society. The phrase, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down," is known by most people with even a marginal interest in Japanese culture. However, during my time in Japan, I heard numerous stories of tolerance from keeping utterly inept, lazy, and inappropriate employees on the job to weird and troublesome relatives being accommodated in the home to keeping friends with idiosyncratic and highly annoying behavior. 

My experiences in America have crystallized my understanding of something and explained why so many Japanese people say Americans are "selfish". Americans are highly tolerant on a macro level. When they step out the door, they try to tolerate diversity among strangers and acquaintances, especially in terms of ethnicity. On a micro level, inside of their own homes, they are highly intolerant and will fuss and complain about small adjustments to the needs and behaviors of others based on their selfish and idiosyncratic concerns. The Japanese are the opposite, especially when it comes to family. When they step out the door and face the greater world, they are intolerant of differences, but inside of their homes, they will put up with and not complain about a much wider range of behaviors. They set aside their petty preferences in the interest of getting along. This sort of tolerance is rarely witnessed by foreigners because it is revealed through an intimacy to which few have access. To learn about it, you have to have a lot of experience and ask the right questions. 

I miss the high level of close interpersonal tolerance that I heard about and experienced in Japan.