2005 October 11 Tuesday
Does Western Culture See Anger As Strength?

In a Wall Street Journal article about anger and stress in the workplace one claim set me to wondering: which cultures condone more use of expressions of anger in workplace situations?

That may be because Western culture tends to view virtue as a weakness and anger as a strength, notes Robert A.F. Thurman, the chairman of Columbia University's Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies department and author of the book "Anger." In it, he notes that Aristotle thought anger helped soldiers overcome their fear. Anger, he writes, can also be useful if it drives people to action to resolve problems.

"The person who is habitually angry will get ahead sometimes maybe by being more aggressive," he said in an interview. But he also argues -- along with most doctors interested in blood pressure -- that anger is ultimately very destructive. "In the long run, they'll generate so much resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger that people will just want to see them put down."

Or at least that would be the case if the wheels of justice spun quickly in the office. "Sometimes it's going to take a hell of a long time to catch up with the idiots," he concedes.

I know a few of you readers are Americans who have lived and worked for years in East Asian countries. So I have a question for you: Is anger seen as more or less a desirable emotion in East Asian workplaces as compared to American workplaces? Also, is anger more admired or respected in any European countries?

Mind you, I'm talking about anger here, not violence. Obviously beating up coworkers is generally frowned upon and reason for getting fired. Is anger a more accepted emotion by supervisors than by workers? My guess is yes. Though in civil service and other more protected jobs I'm guessing subordinates can get away with expressing more anger.

Is expression of anger used as a masculine assertion of dominance and control? Or is it simply used to scare people to work harder?

Also, is "Western culture" and "East Asian culture" even the proper level of granularity for discussing this? Is the role of anger in Japanese companies much different than in Korean companeis for example? I've read that Koreans among East Asians are most like Americans to manage. How is anger by bosses viewed in China? I'm guessing it is more condoned or accepted in China than in Japan. But that is just a guess. Anyone have appropriate experiences that would allow them to compare?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 October 11 10:13 PM  Culture Compared

daveg said at October 12, 2005 9:01 AM:

Koreans are very open to displays of anger and emotion in the workplace. Some call them the "Irish" of the east.

A Korean guy I knew once said that the toughest negotiations he conducted were the ones within his own company!

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