Having lived in several different regions of the world, including Eastern and Western Europe, the West Coast of United States, and middle America, I have observed some strikingly similar behavior patterns across societies. In particular, various negative behaviors, such as verbal threats and physical violence, appear to be expressed more freely and more lightly in certain cultures compared to others. These cultures also tend to assign a greater positive meaning to polite language and cooperation.
While listening to some attending physicians in a Midwestern hospital argue with each other and the staff, I was perplexed by the general absence of concern and hostile emotions around such communication. It was like watching some stages antics and conflicts on television or in the theatre, but not quite. This conduct was serious, but it carried a very light negative meaning. While people didn’t smile or communicate much, they still worked together reasonably well. Establishing good relationships required only a rudimentary level of positive behavior. The population apparently played by an entirely different set of rules than the ones I was used to in California. The variations, however, were not random – far from it. The trend was virtually identical to the one present across Europe. Did a fundamental principle connect these seemingly unrelated behaviors?
The answer to these and many other interesting observations came in the form of a three-dimensional model. I gradually realized that interactive behavior is a linear phenomenon guided by culturally determined perceptions. Our actions range from very cooperative to very antagonistic along a more or less straight line depending on how we interpret other people and feel toward them. This line of perception and action often becomes shifted so that we interpret and behave very differently under the same circumstances. A closely related trend in our demeanor is its frequent tendency to become indirect and covert. The whole system of perception, action, and indirect or covert conduct can be plotted along X, Y, and Z axes to produce a three-dimensional model that can be used to understand, analyze, and to some degree even predict behavior.
The beauty of the three-dimensional model is its ability to integrate a great deal of information about people’s thinking and actions, which can make the trends clear to wide segments of the public as well as behavioral scientists. The system provides more than an intriguing subject for academic discussion. It has very real significance in the daily lives and interactions among a majority of us ranging from schoolchildren to the elderly and most everyone in between. The following stories can serve as a template for learning the model. With this knowledge, the readers’ insight into the cultures and people around them will hopefully grow in a positive direction, the same way my own has and continues to do so.
A detailed explanation of the model can be found in the summary, page 91. Those who prefer a more gradual approach may proceed straight to the chapters.