Value Switching

Food for Thought

@smurfettekay told me that when she talks to Americans, she adapts entirely to their culture where they are blind to who she is in Japan. It is indeed an odd feeling; it’s as if you are living a double life. Beyond “code-switching,” you switch your value systems. You might feel like a phony.

Friendship is built on shared values, so you would want your friends to understand yours. When we say, “I understand where you’re coming from,” we are referring to her value system. It’s a “system” because it has internal consistency.

Immigrants from Europe do not struggle as much because the values are relatively consistent within the West, even if they speak different languages. African Americans also struggle with value-switching (on top of code-switching) even though they speak the same language because what is deemed “professional” is based on the white European value system.

It’s nearly impossible to explain value-switching to those who have no need to switch. The very idea is offensive to most people. Imagine, for instance, someone who switches between liberal and conservative values depending on who they are talking to. Most Americans would move to different states, but not everyone has that option. Many immigrants move to the US for economic, not ideological, reasons. They may disagree with American values, but they have to prioritize survival.

However, if you are open-minded enough and get to know enough people, you begin to see the internal consistency. It’s enlightenment of sorts because, to see its validity, you have to accept that your own value system is not universal. You end up endorsing two contradictory positions, but it does not mean you become amoral; morality becomes context-dependent. Something can be right or wrong only when the context is given. Slurping is encouraged when eating ramen and discouraged when eating pasta.

A republican and a democrat rarely get married because people who can value-switch are rare. If you can switch, it can happen, but it will mean your spouse is blind to half of who you are. However, it won’t matter because your sense of self becomes independent of value systems.