BEYOND SILENCE. A CROSS-CULTURAL COMPARISON BETWEEN FINNISH 'QUIETUDE' AND JAPANESE 'TRANQUILITY'
Diana P. Petkova
ABSTRACT - Silence has been studied in relation to basic cultural parameters, such as high/low context, collectivism/individualism, masculinity/femininity, high/low power distance. Thus, silence in Japan has often been attributed to the high context, collectivism, masculinity and high power distance in the Japanese society. However, in the cross-cultural comparison between Finland and Japan it becomes clear that Finland is an individualist culture with low power distance, low context of culture and high femininity. Yet, there are similarities in the way silence is perceived, used and appreciated in the two countries. Thus, this paper claims that no dichotomies, as the above mentioned characteristics, can comprehend such a complex phenomenon as silence. This is why the paper proposes three main hypotheses. According to the first one, silence can dawn in societies, where a special emphasis is put on listening. According to the second hypothesis, the preference for silence might be generated by the high value attributed to privacy in Finland and Japan. The choice of privacy might also be related to a special sensitivity to communication feedbacks, 'face saving' and communication apprehension in certain communication situations. And according to the third hypothesis, silence can also be triggered by emotions, which are both individual and universal and which are not necessarily culture specific. This is the way silence has been used by various religious and spiritual traditions. This is the case also of the Japanese Zen Buddhism where silence is perceived as an existential and transcendental phenomenon. The latter can only be attained and realized experientially.
Keywords: cross-cultural study, communication, Finland, Japan, silence, Zen Buddhism