October 8, 2009

Conditionally absolute

Berlusconi's lawyer is in the news for an interesting argument he slipped into his client's defense: "The law is equal for all, but not always its application."

The idea of rules and their particular application regularly comes up in cross-cultural communications. On one end of the spectrum lies "universalism" or the zero-tolerance concept of rules ( click here for a recent Time magazine article) in which there are certain absolutes that apply across the board, regardless of circumstances or the particular situation. What is right is always right and you should try to apply the same rules to everyone in like situations. To be fair is to treat everyone alike and not make exceptions for members of your "ingroup".

While life isn't necessarily fair, you can make it more fair by treating everyone the same.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum, "particularism", in which how you behave in a given situation depends on the circumstances, there are no absolutes. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. You treat your ingroup members the best you can and you let the rest of the world take care of itself (their ingroups will take care of them).

To be fair is to treat everyone as unique. No one expects life to be fair.

To each his own cultural orientation.

a domani,

PS. I used the descriptions of universalism and particularism from the book:Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide by Craig Storti.

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