How Eastern philosophy can change the way you think

Check out why and how Eastern philosophy can enrich our Western thinking. The sooner you realize that, the better you will understand people across the world.

Monika Chutnik
How Eastern philosophy can change the way you think

When I was a student of Management, one of the classes we all needed to attend was titled “Logic”. As future managers, leaders, and entrepreneurs, we were taught to differentiate the either-or prepositions and their devastating consequences in legal business contracts.

I understood that the core of what we needed to learn was about either-or, yes-no, right-wrong. This let me apply the very same logic to asking questions and finding my own answers on

  • What is right – what is wrong?
  • Who is right – who is wrong?
  • Who is the winner – who is the loser?

For us, future managers and leaders, this approach to thinking about the world we live in was just self-explanatory.

I graduated the class with honors.

A few years later, I happened to meet a foreign student and asked the most simple question: – Where are you from?

– Ymm, uhm… – she seemed to be confused on what to answer. – It depends. – she said finally. – I was born in France, but raised in Italy, and my parents come from UK.

My crushing logic was unsatisfied. It wanted a more specific answer. – So, how do you identify yourself, where are you from The Most? – (Ha ha, I am laughing to tears now! But there and then, I did want to get the answer clear. My mind was just waiting to put her into one of the boxes which were ready, waiting!)

 

We are not either-or creatures

It took me a number of years – and a number of similarly painful conversations! – to get a better grasp of the fact that we are not either-or creatures. We are multilayered, and even contrary answers might exist together, true on various levels of our existence. I can be both, a winner and a loser. You can be all, smiling and struggling at the very same time.

Over time, I feel less inclined to look for yes-no answers. But it does happen, especially when in a hurry. Shall I blame myself for not being “mentally flexible”? I don’t think this feature is specific to me. As people of the Western world, we are products of Cartesian philosophy based on dualisms, mental products of deductive Aristotelian thought. It all started at least 2300 years ago – the double zero is not an error! Our Western way of thinking roots back to Greek philosopers of 6th-4th century B.C. The either-or approach to reasoning is considered to be “the right way” and a proof of good quality thinking in the Western world.

 

We are complete… with all the opposites

Which of the great minds of the East would think similar way? Both-and, intertwined, and-and are the natural ways of thinking in the Eastern tradition. From the Eastern perspective, it’s possible to be BOTH a winner AND a loser. It’s possible to be BOTH right AND wrong. It’s completely natural that you might be BOTH successful AND vulnerable.

If we put it in other words, the fact that you are vulnerable does not at all make you less successful. And vice versa, the fact that you are successful, does not at all make you less vulnerable…

Altogether, you are a human being 🧡

 

A redefinig graphic by @thepresentpsychologist

 

What does it make you feel? Please do share in a comment below!

 

Some ideas for action

 

  • Why not give it a go and practice a bit? Look at one of the statements in the visual above. Which of them strongly resonates with you? Think of reasons why you are both This AND That. You can write them down to give structure to your thoughts if you need.

 

  • Have you ever noticed that you tend to think of yourself in a term which is negative to you? Find its opposite. Now, think what makes you both This (what you sometimes think of yourself) AND That (what you might have overlooked to think of).

 

  • If you like, you might dive a bit deeper into some of the Eastern philosopies and religions. A simple way to do that might come through reading stories, legends, and even fairy tales from the East. A more exciting way to do it would be to ask and listen to your Chinese, Indian, Japanese, or Thai friends, discussing how they approach areas which matter to you.

 

I would like to pass my thanks to Phek Yen NG who shared this lovely graphic with all Philippe Rosinski‘s Alumni of Leading and Coaching Across Cultures, including myself, and obviously to @thepresentpsychologist, the Author of this great visual. Thank you both 🧡

 

 


As trainers, coaches, and consultants in ETTA we help global leaders grow and lead their teams in virtual and international environments. We are experts in intercultural communication, online productivity, and mental resilience. We work remotely for groups from all over the world, designing and delivering trainings, workshops and webinars in English, Polish, and German. Let’s work together on competences of the future! 👍


 

Photo by Jac Alexandru on Unsplash

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