2019 | 3 | 41-56
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Emotion as a Language of Universal Dialogue

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Despite globalization and the rapid development of information technology, cross-cultural dialogue did not become any easier. The physical and non-physical confrontations are intensified by the differences in basic values and interest of cultures, which can be seen by the increasing number of wars, extreme localism, and mistrust between people. Rationality, which has long been regarded as the best and the only common language among different cultures, fails to facilitate communication and collaboration. Rationality’s limitation was revealed among others in Alasdair MacIntyre’sWhose Justice? Which Rationality? Unlike what ancient Greek philosophers suggested, thereis not a single type of supreme rationality that everyone will and should follow. The only consensus perhaps is about the instrumental rationality suggested by Max Weber, which is futile in promoting cross-cultural dialogues as it addresses the various means rather than the ends of different cultures. In this paper, I argue that emotion is a better language for universal dialogue than rationality in two senses. First, the psychologists and anthropologists provide solid evidence to prove that certain emotions are basic and universal among all human beings. For instance, based on his study of facial expression of the Fore people in Papua New Guinea, Ekman (2003) proposed that anger, fear, surprise, disgust, sadness, and happiness are six basic emotions that are universally shared. Other evidence includes studies conducted by Tomkins (1962), Arnold (1960), and Frijda (1986). These basic emotions might serve as the foundation of cross-cultural dialogue because we are evolved to understand the causes and expressions of these emotions in others despite the cultural and social differences. Second, unlike instrumental rationality that focuses solely on how to achieve one’s end, certain emotions are non-egocentric by nature. For instance, compassion is “another-oriented emotion elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of another person” (Batson 1991). Chinese philosophy expresses a similar idea with the aid of the concept of Ren, which is the essence of human being, according to Confucianism. Love is another non-egocentric emotion that is constituted by care and concern of the well-being of one’s beloved for his or her own sake. That is, I love you not because loving you makes me happy, instead, it is because loving you makes you happy. Such non-egocentric emotions (other examples include sympathy, empathy, trust, etc.) might encourage and motivate cross-cultural dialogue despite the conflict of interest between cultures. While facing multi-faceted contemporary problems and crisis, we do not lack rational and intelligent solutions. We lack mutual understanding, reciprocal tolerance, and sustainable collaboration. The role of emotion in establishing a platform of cross-cultural dialogue should not be overlooked.
  • Department of Social Science at Hang Seng University of Hong Kong.
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