Politics and the Emotional Quadrants

From a Turkish (English language) newspaper today, I learned about “emotional quadrants.” Before we get to that item, let me back-track briefly.

I’ve been in Turkey for a while, chiefly Instanbul, and although I was aware of the extent to which Turkey is between many states and cultures, being here drives the point home. Geographically, Turkey is bordered by Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Iran, and Syria. Technically, it also borders Greece inasmuch as the two nations share Cyprus. It has longstanding tense relationships with Greece because of World War I and Cyprus; and with Armenia because the former wants Turkey to admit to genocide while the latter, officially, won’t do so. More or less friendly with the West, Turkey contrasted itself sharply with the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. It is a Muslim nation, and the bulk of its land lies in Asia, and yet it is pressing to join the EU, and many of its citizens have family in Europe, the U.S., and Canada. (I met a waiter yesterday who works 6 months in Istanbul and 6 in New York City.) Although friendly to the West, it’s now involved in a complex nuclear-fuel deal with Iran and Brazil. Just on the basis of these circumstances, Turkey’s politics seem dizzyingly complex.

Perhaps fearing vertigo, then, I fixed on a more nebulous, arguably more peripheral issue with regard to politics: “emotional quadrants,” the stuff of psychology, sociology, and anthropology–and of business/politics?

A columnist with Hurriyet Daily News [umlaut over the u], Zafar Parlar referred to scholars of international business studies who have focused on “four main tendencies” that make up “emotional quadrants” globally. Here’s the low-down:

1. U.S. West Coast and Canada: responses are based on “sympathy and outrage.”

2. U.S. East Coast and Northern Europe: “approval/disapproval.” [What, the Midwest and South don’t have businesspersons or responses?]

3. Nations in Asia: “respect and disrespect.”

4. Southern Europe, Latin America, Arabia [and Persia?] “love and hate.”

Turkey, he says, belongs squarely in category 4. To illustrate, he focuses on soccer coaches hired from Europe to coach Turkish teams. At first the coaches can’t fathom the unreserved love fans show them, but once things go a bit awry, they can’t believe the venom the fans express.

His second example springs from a business setting, where a foreign person is overseeing a Turkish business office in which the workers seem to dislike him. Parlar investigated, and an administrative assistant noted that, one day, she had to go the hospital for blood tests. The director said that was fine, but he did not ask what the tests were for, nor did he ask how she was feeling when she returned. “What kind of a person shows no emotion like that?” the admin. assistant wondered. Parlar explained to her that the director’s reaction was determined by a different cultural attitude toward privacy. Parlar explained to the director that he needed to show his emotions in Turkey–even at work.

When I encounter such schemata, my first response is suspicion. How is it possible to support such categories with data? Can’t “approval/disapproval” slide easily into “love/hate.” …And so forth.

My second response is to be more patient and to accept the possibility that human relations, including politics, might be affected by such hard-to-define, culturally shaped responses, and in this case to reflect upon the fact that I tend to respond sympathetically (or not) to different cultures. I’m more sympathetic to Turkish, Swedish, and Italian behaviors than I am to German ones, for instance, and I lived for extended periods in both Sweden and Germany.

On this blog, we tend to return to “What would Orwell think?” I’m thinking he’d think these quadrants, in spite of their being articulated clearly and pithily, were hoo-ha, and I base my guess on how hostile he seems to sociology in THE essay.

To the extent politics is not a street-level affair, the quadrants are probably of limited use; to the extent politics reside at street level, in conversations, and in interpersonal moments (including those that powerful state-leaders share), there may be something to these basic terms, love, hate, approval, respect, sympathy, outrage, and so on. –Hard to prove what or how the terms/concepts mean; as hard to dismiss them entirely. All of which makes me glad I usually get to focus on texts and not on behavior, which I may leave in the hands of political scientists and anthropologists, among others.

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