Time has an essay this week [04.16.07] titled “The Age of U-Turns: Flip-flops get a bad name, but often the best course is to reverse course,” by Bruce Grierson, where he writes about his book U-Turn. The author contrasts Western and Eastern thinking. Westerners ignore ambiguity: “To Western thinking, the world is linear; you can chop it up and analyze it.” Eastern thinking is illustrated by a comment made by a Chinese student: “The difference between you and me is that I think the world is a circle, and you think it’s a line.”
The author praises the Eastern approach—which is at least worthy of examination and consideration. I applaud that, remembering my days at McKinsey when I sometimes was tarred with the ultimate brush of opprobrium: “You think in circles, Tom.” Though it didn’t help my standing with my betters, it was exactly what I thought of myself. Partly because my PhD mentors at Stanford were the likes of Gene Webb, Karl Weick, and Jim March, who tried to take the idea of organization beyond bloodless org charts and sterile strategy documents.
But that’s not really my point here. Instead I am bridling at the fact that Grierson’s flavor of linear “Western thinking” is really about … MALE Western thinking.” (Try to find a female philosopher in the Age of Greece! Fat chance!) FEMALE thinking, based on relationships rather than competitive spearthrowing in the bush, has always tended to the “circular.” Research, among other things, shows that women see ten sides to an issue—where men see but one.
There’s lots to say here, but my point is a simple one: Why must the “sample,” in a book like Grierson’s, always be male-centric?