Bilingual and Bicultural: Views from Joshua Cooper Ramo
Joshua Cooper Ramo, the youngest managing director at Kissinger Associates, addressed the IMPACT 2011 crowd on Thursday afternoon. Ramo started off by entertaining the crowd with an affectionate and dead-on impression of his boss, Henry Kissinger himself. Relating a conversation he had with Kissinger a few years ago, Ramo said that he asked the former Secretary of State and learned historian whether he had ever seen or studied a period of time like this one. Kissinger apparently answered: “Not since the fall of the Roman Empire.”
Much of Ramo’s talk was focused on China, the rise of which he called “the most important transition in our lifetime.” He spoke about the great challenges created by the differences in ideas and culture between the U.S. and China, but also about the enormous opportunity for cooperation. At one point, he said that while the risk of an actual war between China and the U.S. was very unlikely, a failure of our two nations to cooperate and collaborate could prove to be every bit as devastating as a war.
Ramo’s views on being not only bilingual but also bicultural were one of the most interesting parts of his speech for me. Citing a study by Richard Nisbett, he related how 25 American graduate students and 25 Chinese graduate students viewed the same images. Nisbitt analyzed the subjects’ eye activity when looking at pictures, including one of a tiger in a rural setting. The American subjects spent 90 percent of the time looking directly at the tiger, while the Chinese subjects spent 90 percent of the time looking at the background. Ramo said this result is a good depiction of how differently our two cultures see the world. While U.S culture tends to favor a more direct, individualistic, “go get ‘em” sort of approach, he said, in Chinese culture “real success comes from understanding the environment so well that you can move within it seamlessly.”
Ramo also spoke about the increasing complexity of our modern age and the effect of our growing and changing populations -- an “explosion of actors” -- on our approach to international relations. He also talked about a revolution that is taking place in terms of what it means to be modern. The very definition of being modern, he said, used to be the ability to invent life for yourself and to choose who you want to be, regardless of where or to whom you were born. Ramo called this “freedom from the tyranny of birth.” But, he added, we are now in a post-modern age and the definition of modernity has evolved to become the ability to constantly reinvent yourself.
In his close, Ramo said our ability to create and sustain a productive relationship with China (or not) is going to define this period of history.
Joshua Cooper Ramo speaking at IMPACT 2011.
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Some of the statements in this presentation may be forward looking and contain certain risks and uncertainties. There can be no guarantee of future performance. The views expressed are those of the speaker and are subject to change based on market and other various conditions.