Co-authored with Frederick T. L. Leong, Ph.D., Ohio State University

The basic premise of this chapter is that “there are many ways to be human” and that the cultural competence model is a useful theoretical framework for analyzing and understanding cross-cultural differences in optimal human functioning. Beginning with several important definitional issues, we move on to propose a Contingency model of cultural competence to analyze and understand optimal human functioning from a cross-cultural perspective. As part of this Contingency model, we advocate using Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s (1961) value orientations as one important dimension within this model. We also expand upon Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s (1961) model by adding the additional dimensions of religious and existential orientations to the Contingency model of cultural competence. Finally, we discuss the counseling implications of this Contingency model.

Cultural Competence Model

In the last few years, with the leadership of Martin Seligman, an increased amount of attention has been paid to “positive psychology”. Yet, different scholars have argued that while it has not been mainstream, there has been considerable attention paid to the healthy, as opposed to the pathological side, of the human experience by psychologists in the last 5 decades. One stream of this early research and theoretical work is under the rubric of the Competence model. Dating back to Robert White’s (1959) competence model, there have been various attempts to promote the competence model as a major organizing framework for psychology. For example, as part of the Vermont Conference on Primary Prevention of Psychopathology in the late 1970s, two of the 4 volumes that resulted from those conferences focused on competence: (a) Social Competence in Children by Kent and Roth (1979), and (b) Competence and Coping during Adulthood by Bond and Rosen (1980). Indeed, George Albee’s chapter in the latter volume was entitled, “A Competency Model must replace the Defect Model” which is the underlying message in the positive psychology movement being spearheaded by Martin Seligman. A decade later Sternberg and Kolligian (1990) continues to explore the concept of competence and its relevance for psychology in their volume entitled, Competence Considered.

According to White (1959), competence refers to “an organism’s capacity to interact effectively with its environment” (p. 297). Based on his review of the literature representing different areas of psychology, he went on to propose that human beings have an intrinsic motivation towards competence which he labelled as effectance motivation: “it is maintained that competence cannot be fully acquired simply through behavior instigated by drives. It receives substantial contributions from activities which, though playful and exploratory in character, at the same time show direction, selectivity, and persistence in interacting with the environment. Such activities in the ultimate service of competence must therefore be conceived as motivated in their own right. It is proposed to designate this motivation by the term effectance, and to characterize the experience produced as a feeling of efficacy” (White, 1959, p. 329).

If we accept White’s (1959) proposition that human beings are motivated towards competence in addition to the usual motives of thirst, hunger, and sex, then the competence model can serve as a useful theoretical framework for us to examine optimal human functioning from a cross-cultural perspective. According to White’s (1959) definition of competence, every human being possess an intrinsic motivation to strive towards competence. To strive towards competence in order to experience that sense of efficacy is to seek to function optimally in one’s environment. However, most of the scholars and researchers who have examined or adopted this competence model has tended to ignore the second half of White’s definition, namely “interact effectively with its environment.” These scholars have tended to be focused primarily on “effectiveness” in a decontextualized fashion with the assumption that the environment plays a limited role. Yet, research has shown that the social and psychological environments experienced by human beings vary across cultures (e.g., see Berry, Segall, & Kagitcibasi, 1997). These scholars and researchers have conceptualised competence as a unitary or acultural phenomenon instead of recognizing that competence is a complex and multidimensional construct. To be sure, there are likely universal elements of competence and yet a great deal of competence is cultural competence since it cannot exist in a vacuum and indeed has to be understood in relation to the environment and much of our environments consist of cultural components.

Leong (1996) has argued for a multidimensional conceptualisation of human experience as opposed to the unidimensional orientation of either the universalist or the group (the cultural is only one of these) approach. Leong (1996) has proposed a multidimensional and integrative model of cross-cultural counseling and psychotherapy that seeks to integrate the universal and cultural dimensions. In that model, using Kluckhohn and Murray’s (1950) tripartite framework, Leong (1996) proposed that cross-cultural counselors and therapists need to attend to all three major dimensions of human personality and identity, namely the Universal, the Group, and the Individual dimensions. The Universal dimension is based on the knowledge-base generated by mainstream psychology and the “universal laws” of human behavior that have been identified (e.g., the universal “fight or flight” response in humans to physical threat). The Group dimension has been the domain of both cross-cultural psychology as well as ethnic minority psychology and the study of gender differences. The third and final dimension concerns unique Individual differences and characteristics. The Individual dimension is more often covered by behavioral and existential theories where individual learning histories and personal phenomenology are proposed as critical elements in the understanding of human behavior. Leong’s (1996) integrative model proposes that all three dimensions are equally important in understanding human experiences and should be attended to by the counselor in an integrative fashion.

Following Leong’s (1996) argument, competence can be viewed as consisting of different components. There is a universal component as well as a cultural component. The former is part of what psychologists seek to identify as “universal laws of behavior”. The latter comes from both the environment, which varies across cultures, and the individual who has been socialized into a particular culture. Therefore, a large part of competence is by definition cultural competence. Granted that there may be competencies that generalize across all cultures (e.g., general intelligence comes closest) and yet one is never just a competent human being but rather a competent person in China or a competent person in the United States. If research from cross-cultural psychology has shown us anything, it has demonstrated that competence, like other psychological constructs, vary across cultures in its definition, nature, antecedents-consequences, and correlates.

Positive psychology or optimal human functioning has been examined from the numerous perspectives using various psychological constructs including subjective well-being, optimism, emotional intelligence, wisdom, and creativity (see special issue of American Psychologist, 2000, volume 55, which was devoted to this topic). For our present purposes, we would like to propose that cultural competence serves as a valuable organizational framework for analyzing and understanding optimal human functioning across cultures. Relying on White’s (1959) definition, a person is viewed as culturally competent if he or she is able to interact effectively with his or her environment. This includes both the physical and social environments. Such a culturally competent person would exhibit emotional intelligence, wisdom, creativity, optimism, and subjective well-being, appropriate to his or her cultural environment. Until cross-cultural research has found that these psychological constructs (e.g., emotional intelligence and wisdom) to be universal, then it may be safer to proceed with Leong’s (1996) argument that these constructs probably consist of both universal and cultural components that interact in a complex fashion.

Cultural Competence Versus Cross-Cultural Competence

Before proceeding further with our argument that a cultural competence perspective will help us improve our understanding of cross-cultural differences in optimal functioning, it would be important to clarify a few definitional issues. We believe that it is important to clearly define the constructs under consideration and to differentiate similar but not identical concepts.

Our first definition problem has to do with the concept of cultural competence versus cross-cultural competence. Most White-European American counselors and psychotherapists have always been culturally competent psychologists. To be culturally competent is to be able to adapt and function effectively in one’s culture. In the same way, African American counselors and psychotherapists are also culturally competent psychologists with reference with their African American cultural heritage. So, the problem is not with cultural competence but with limited cross-cultural competence, i.e., the knowledge and skills to relate and communicate effectively with someone from another culture different from your own.

White-European American psychology has been based primarily on a Eurocentric paradigm. This characteristic is not a flaw in and of itself any more that an Afrocentric psychology or an Asian-centered psychology is inherently flawed. No, the first major flaw in White American psychology is not that it is Eurocentric, rather it is that it does not often realize nor acknowledge that it is Eurocentric. The second major flaw is that American psychology operates on the assumption that it’s theories, scientific data, and formulations are universal when in reality it is quite Eurocentric. In other words, White American psychology not only believes that it’s culture-specific theories and data are universal, it actively intervenes in the lives and societies of those who are culturally-different with these mistaken or at best untested theories and models.

In essence, White American psychology is a culturally competent psychology on a WITHIN-culture level, namely, it’s theories and interventions are quite effective and appropriate for White European Americans. However, it is not a culturally competent psychology when it comes to an ACROSS-culture dimension. Hence, as pointed out by Pedersen and Marsella (1982), White-American psychology, as it currently exists, violates it own ethical codes whenever it crosses cultural boundaries without the requisite training and competencies in cross-cultural psychology, and While cultural competence is concerned with how White American psychotherapists can function with White American clients or African American psychotherapists can function with African American clients, cross-cultural competence is concerned with how and whether White American psychotherapists can function effectively with White American clients or vice versa. In other words, what we need to research and measure is NOT cultural competence but cross-cultural competence when we seek to increase our understanding of counselling with culturally different clients (Sue & Sue, 1999).

Multicultural Counseling Versus Cross-Cultural Counseling

Counseling psychologists have been at the forefront of conceptualising and measuring cross-cultural counseling competencies for the last 2 decades (see Pope-Davis & Coleman, 1997; Sue, Bernier, Durran, Feinberg, Pedersen, Smith, & Vazquez-Nutall, 1982). However, this program of research has focused primarily on counseling competencies and not psycho-social competencies that we are presently discussing. Yet, within the counseling arena, there is another definitional issue that needs clarification, namely the confusing usage of the terms “multicultural” and “cross-cultural” when referring to the counseling situation. There has been a tendency in the field to use the terms multicultural counseling and cross-cultural counseling interchangeably. As I have pointed out (Leong, 1994), these are different concepts and the latter term is more appropriate for two different reasons. The first reason has to do with the concept of multicultural which refers to “many cultures”. Owing to the multiculturalism movement in the United States, many psychologists and counselors had begun using the term “multicultural counseling” inappropriately to refer to what they do when they work with culturally different clients. They have confused multiculturalism as a social movement with what they do. The more appropriate term is cross-cultural counseling since it accurately describes what they do—a counselor from one particular culture is counseling a client from a different culture.

Multicultural counseling, on the other hand, means counseling with many different cultures and this is rarely what counselors and therapists are doing unless they happened to be conducting group psychotherapy with a culturally heterogeneous group of clients (i.e., counseling with many different cultures). Another exception would be a White European therapist conducting couples therapy with a Hispanic American man married to an African American woman and her co-therapist is an Asian American. Such instances are relatively rare. A White European American counselor seeing an African American client on Monday and a Mexican American client on Wednesday is not conducting “multicultural counseling”; rather she is conducting cross-cultural counseling each time she see a client from a cultural background different from hers. Similarly, a therapist who uses a cognitive-behavioral approach with one client on Monday and a humanistic approach with a different client on Wednesday cannot really claim that he is using a multidimensional eclectic approach to therapy with his clients.

A second and more important reason why we should not use the term multicultural counseling in place of cross-cultural counseling is the nature and extent of our knowledge-base. The majority of the studies that have examined the role of culture and it’s potential influence on counseling and psychotherapy have been bi-cultural, i.e., it has examined and compared only two cultures.. Early research in cross-cultural psychology was heavily influenced by anthropology which tended to study one culture at a time in significant depth. Using this monocultural approach, namely the study of one culture at a time, psychologists would, for example, investigate the nature and existence of schizophrenia in different countries around the world. Cross-cultural psychologists now recognize the extreme limitations of such an approach. This approach not only did not provide for direct comparisons between cultures, which is the primary focus of cross-cultural psychology, but it also provided inferences and conclusions based on implicit and biased assumptions of the investigators who tended to be from the West. This problem in turn gave rise to the second approach in cross-cultural psychology, namely bicultural studies. These studies usually involve directly collecting data from 2 countries and comparing the results (e.g., schizophrenia in Britain and the United States). The limitations of this approach is that later studies could not be easily compared to earlier studies since different instruments, sampling procedures, and designs may have been used even though the same topic was studied in many different bicultural studies. The ideal approach in cross-cultural psychology was of course, the multicultural study, where 3 or more cultures were studied using the same design, instruments, and procedures. The more cultures that were included the better. However, these studies tend to be very expensive to undertake and there are only a handful of them in the cross-cultural psychological literature.

The implications of this methodological dilemma (i.e., multicultural studies are best but too expensive for most investigators to undertake) is that much of the knowledge-base on which cross-cultural psychology in general and cross-cultural counseling in particular is discussed and debated is derived mainly from bicultural and not multicultural studies. This predominance of bicultural studies (only two cultural groups) is also true for racial and ethnic minority psychology. Cultural diversity in the United States is usually represented by five major cultural groups. These groups include White-European Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and American Indians. There are actually very few psychological studies of all five groups together using the same design, instruments, and procedures. In fact, most of the studies use the bicultural approach where only 2 groups are compared. Even worse, the typical comparison group is between White-European Americans and African Americans or between White-European Americans and Hispanic Americans. There are actually very few studies comparing African Americans with Hispanic Americans and comparing Hispanic Americans with Asian Americans. In summary, we do not have a knowledge-base to guide multicultural counseling since there are very few multicultural studies. What we have and therefore what we should limit ourselves to at present is cross-cultural counselling where the cultural background of the client and counselor are clearly specified.

Definitions of Optimal Functioning and Cultural Competence

The third and final definitional problem concerns whose definition of optimal functioning and cultural competence should we use? In cross-cultural psychology, an important distinction is made between the etic (universalist) versus the emic (culture-specific) approach to studying cultures. The former approach, also referred to as the “top-down” approach, involves the researchers bringing in their own conceptual schemes and research instruments with which to evaluate the members of the target culture on some psychological dimension. The latter approach, also referred to as the “bottom-up’ approach involves the researcher seeking to discover the underlying structure and meaning of different behaviors from the perspectives of the members of the target culture. This etic-emic distinction illustrates an important issue in cross-cultural psychology, namely when we interact with or study other cultures, it is essential that we keep in mind that the two cultures may have significantly different values, norms, beliefs, and expectancies. To mindlessly impose our culture’s values, norms, beliefs, and expectancies in how we study and interpret the meaning of the behaviors of members from a different culture is not only ethnocentric but would result in “bad science”.

Anthropologists and cross-cultural psychologists have long argued for the cultural relativity position in our definitions of normality and abnormality. This should not be any different for our definitions of optimal functioning and cultural competence. Over 60 years ago, Ackerknecht (1942; cited in Marsella, 1979) had already proposed that we divide our classification of normal behavior into four categories: “(a) autopathological—behavior which is abnormal in the culture in which is found and normal in other cultures, (b) autonormal—behavior which is normal in the culture in which is found and abnormal in other cultures, (c) heteropathological—behavior which is abnormal in all cultures, and (d) heteronormal — behavior which is normal in all cultures”, (Marsella, 1979, p.242). An example would be marital arrangements. In the United States, polygamy or marriage to more than one partner at the same time is generally considered abnormal whereas in many Islamic societies, polygamy is accepted and even encouraged if it results in spreading the Islamic faith. However, this pattern applies to only an Islamic man taking several women as wives and not vice versa.

Given the cultural relativity in definitions of normality and assuming that the same relativity applies to optimal functioning and competence, it is essential that counseling psychologists approach their work with culturally-different clients with a relativistic viewpoint. There is likely to be systematic cultural variations in what is considered optimal functioning and psychosocial competence across different cultures. These cultural variations need to be taken into account if we are to provide effective and culturally relevant counseling services to these clients. To accommodate these cultural variations, we will propose a Contingency model of cultural competence.

A Contingency Model of Cultural Competence

Based on the issues we have raised earlier, we will next review various theoretical approaches to positive psychology and optimal functioning, and then develop our Contingency model of cultural competence. One prototype of optimal functioning can be found in sport psychology. Athletes are considered to be function as their optimal level, when their every muscle is finely tuned like the engine of a racing car and their mental state is superbly conditioned, resulting in a perfectly executed performance. In short, optimal functioning is evidenced in performance that is one’s personal best. A team is performing at the optimal level, when there is synergy and good chemistry, when team members put all their energies and talents together to accomplish the “impossible” task of defeating a much stronger rival team, or break a new world record in a relay event.

However, optimal functioning cannot be based on performance only. Even common sense dictates that it is unrealistic to expect people to perform at their highest level at all times and in all situations. Thus, a performance-based and achievement-oriented conception of optimal functioning does not have wide applications.

We propose that optimal functioning can be found in different spheres of human life, ranging from phenomenological experiences to group processes. A broader conception of optimal functioning is necessary in order to place it in a cross-cultural perspective. Even within White American psychology, there have been different conceptions of optimal functioning. For humanistic psychologists like Maslow (1968), optimal functioning has been associated with self-actualization, a term used to characterized individuals who have finally reached the state of having fulfilled all their potentials, and have finally put everything together.

The humanistic orientation emphasizes personality development and meaningful fulfillment rather than performance, because when individuals reach maturity and achieve self-actualization, many of their cognitive and physiological functioning would be on the decline. According to Bugental (1964), one of the basic postulates of humanistic psychology is that human beings are intentional, goal-oriented, and they are motivated to seek meaning and value.

As mentioned earlier, another influential approach is White’s (1959) competence model. According to White (1959) competence refers to “an organism’s capacity to interact effectively with its environment’ (p.297). His model reflects the zeitgeist of his day, and focuses on competence in behavioral interactions with the environment. In cross-cultural psychology, a much broader conception of competence is needed, because competence, properly understood, should encompass competence in personal development and spiritual enlightenment, competence in artistic endeavors, and competence in maintaining interpersonal relationships and group harmony.

In recent years, Martin Seligman has championed positive psychology by challenging psychology to shift its focus from negative to positive aspects of human experiences. Positive psychology is defined as a “science of positive subjective experiences, positive traits, and positive institutions” and it focuses on such topics as “hope, wisdom, creativity…courage, spirituality” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

The above definition seems to be broad enough. However, the current research on positive psychology has consisted of primarily quantitative studies of cognitive and affective variables within a particular experimental paradigm. It has not paid much attention to topics of humanistic concerns, such as meaning, values, courage, and spirituality.

Greening (2001) has criticized Martin Seligman for failing to recognize the contributions of humanistic psychology, but expresses the hope that the two groups can join forces to promote positive change and “increase our knowledge of positive and fully human ways of living” (p.5). Rich (2001) questions the limitations of quantitative research: “How should psychologists approach the study of optimal experience? Will traditional quantitative methods suffice? Can we understand creativity via ANOVAs, happiness with regression, or the good life through structural equation modeling? Or are there topics that positive psychology cannot comprehend without the use of qualitative methods such as interviews, observations, and intense fieldwork?” (p.9)

The above brief review indicates that even within White American psychology, there is little agreement regarding what constitutes optimal functioning or positive psychology. Therefore, the task would be even more complex and challenging, if we want to develop a model of optimal ways of living from a cross-cultural perspective.

We have chosen the cultural competence model as an organizational framework for two reasons. Firstly, the concept of competence is expandable, as demonstrated by the literature. There is now a consensus that competence is a multidimensional construct. There are not only multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983), but also multiple types of competence, ranging from immune competence to mental hardiness. Secondly, the concept of competence is relevant to all cultures, even though there are cultural differences in terms of what kind of competence is most valued. Therefore, the cultural competence model allows us to examine optimal functioning from a cross-cultural perspective.

Our conceptual framework maybe more accurately called a contingency model of cultural competence, because it posits that optimal functioning or competence is contingent on not only its cultural context, but also on the particular perspective and domain we are interested in. In other words, to have a meaningful dialogue about the optimal level of competence in a given culture, we need to specify the perspective and domain for that competence.

For example, we can evaluate any type of competence from either an individual perspective or a group perspective. From an individual perspective, a basketball player may be functioning at his optimal level by scoring his personal best; however, from a group perspective, he may have performed poorly by not passing balls when necessary, and by not doing his part in defensive play, causing the team to lose a crucial game. Similarly, a worker may be a superb salesperson, but by stepping on his fellow workers, and by showing total disregard for team spirit and group goals, he is hurting the morale of the company.

Our model postulates that if the perspective is congruent with cultural values, then it increases the likelihood of positive outcomes. However, if the perspective is incongruent with cultural values, then it decreases the likelihood of positive outcomes. For example, the self-centered worker is more likely to do well in an individualist society than in a collectivist culture.

Another important perspective for competence is either short-term or long-term. Life is often a marathon rather than a 100-meter sprint. A person may be functioning optimally in a short-run, but does not have the staying power to go the distance. For a company that values short-term gains, a “sprinter” as CEO is likely to shine as a genuine. However, for a company with a long-term strategy for sustainable growth, a “sprinter” may not be the right choice. He may show record profits for a couple of years through risky acquisitions, but would eventually run the company to the ground through bad deals and a crushing debt load.

Similarly, on an individual basis, a person may be functioning at his maximum level for only few years and becomes burnt out through overwork; consequently, his performance declines steadily for his remaining working years. Another person may be functioning at less than her maximum level, but she is able to remain productive throughout her long career. In terms of life-time productivity, the second person is clearly functioning a higher level than the first person.

The above examples indicate the necessity of specifying the perspective and the principle of congruence whenever we discuss optimal functioning. In an earlier paper, Wong (1993) made a similar point on the need for congruence between coping and stressor in a particular cultural context. His congruence model posits that coping is effective to the point that it is congruent not only with the nature of the stressor, but also with cultural competence. In the present paper, we are making the case that optimal functioning is more likely, when the perspective is congruent with cultural values. When counselors work with culturally-different clients, they need to be sensitive to the cultural values, norms, and beliefs of their clients in order to enhance congruence between intervention and clients’ cultural competence.

Another important consideration in any discussion of optimal functioning is domain. A simple example would be that a football star, who functions well in a sports arena, may not do well in the hall of examination. The difference has to do with the domain in which he is measured. To carry this logic further, a person who scores well in performance measures, may not do well in terms of any health indicators or relationship measures. Similarly, one person who functions well in times of prosperity may do very poorly in coping with trauma and adversity.

Domain is important, because it specifies the area in which one is functioning well and determines the appropriate dependent variables to measure optimal functioning. For example, if the domain of interest is individual performance in sales, than the person with highest volume of sales would the optimal performer. However, if the domain of interest is health in terms of various physiological functioning, he may be doing very poorly because he has been working under too much stress.

In sum, the contingency model of cultural competence takes into account not only cultural differences, but also perspectives and domains. Such a model will not only facilitate communications between researchers, but also has the heuristic value of guiding future research of optimal functioning from a cross-cultural perspective.

Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s (1961) Value Orientations

Among the various cultural variables that have been systematically studied by psychologists, value orientations have had both the strongest theoretical foundation as well as the most empirical research underlying it. Therefore, in our Contingency model we propose that cultural variations in value orientations is an important “contingency” for the counselor to attend to when working with culturally-different clients.

Culture influences almost every aspect of our existence. It not only shapes our values and beliefs, but also influences our language, eating habits, social interactions. Culture is manifested in normative and shared behavioral patterns and created products of the human minds in a given society. In short, culture prescribes ways for behaving and designs for living.

Given the pervasive impact of culture, concept of optimal function clearly varies from culture to culture. For example, traditional Eastern cultures, such as Confucianism, tend to emphasize personal development and social harmony rather than individual performance. Hinduism emphasizes personal enlightenment rather than material success. In this section, we depend on Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s value orientations as a framework to discuss cultural differences in optimal functioning.

There has been a long and venerable tradition of emphasizing values in studying cultural difference (Holstede, 1980; Kluckhohn, 1951; Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961; Rokeach, 1973; Schein, 1991; Triandis, 1975). In most of these studies, values refer to attributes of national cultures rather than individual preferences. For example, Hofstede (1980) conceptualizes culture as a set of shared mental programs. Even with his cognitive orientation, his focus in on national cultures. His Values Survey Module measures four value dimensions: (a) Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), (b) Individualism (IDV), (c) Power Distance Index (PDI), and (d) Masculinity Index (MAS). Time Orientation (LTO) was added later as the fifth value dimension of national cultures.

Triandis (1995) identifies the vertical and horizontal dimensions of individualism and collectivism. The vertical dimension represents hierarchy, whereas the horizontal dimension indicates the similarities of status among individuals within a social group.

According to Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), cultural values can be inferred from how people in every society answer five crucial human questions: (a) What is the basis nature of people? (b) What is the proper relationship to nature? (c) What is the proper focus in terms of the temporal dimension of life? (d) What is the proper mode of human activity? (e) What is the proper way of relating to one another?

Within each culture, responses to these questions naturally vary from person to person. However, there is a still a preferred dominant response in each society. For each question, the dominant responses can be classified into three categories. For example, there are three types of responses to the first question of human nature: Evil, Good, Both Good-and-Evil.

We chose Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s model for two main reasons. Firstly, it has been very influential in the counseling literature (Carter, 1991). Secondly, it addresses basic assumptions and existential beliefs present in almost every culture. According to Zavalloni (1980), “The existential or general beliefs were seen as influencing concrete choices in everyday life” (p.84). Therefore, Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck’s five dimensions lend themselves readily to cross-cultural studies of positive psychology.

(1) Human Nature Orientation

There are three types of responses: Evil, Good-and-Evil, and Good. But within each category, there are sub-divisions of mutuality and immutability. To believe that human nature is evil is to believe that people are basically bad, and they need to be controlled. Some believe that evil is mutable. For example, those from the Reformed tradition and Puritan ancestors believe that human nature is depraved and evil, but at the same time, they also believe that human nature can be improved through spiritual redemption and sanctification. Therefore, for this evangelical subculture, optimal functioning depends on spiritual transformation.

Others believe that people are born good and that most people are basically good at heart. However, good can also be mutable. According to Confucius teaching, even though human nature is basically good, it can turn bad without proper education and intentional personal development. Therefore, optimal functioning depends on virtuous behaviors rather than excellent performance. However, most people in both American and China believe that people are both good and evil at birth, and that they are capable of both under certain conditions. There are both good and bad people in the world. According to this view, optimal functioning will be contingent on favorable circumstances.

(2) Man-Nature Orientation

The three dominant responses are: Subjugation-to-Nature, Harmony-with-Nature, and Master-over-Nature. Subjugation-to-Nature represents the belief that people cannot change nature and life is determined by forces beyond one’s control. This is the preferred response alternative in primitive or poor societies, where feel powerless to protect themselves from the ravages of nature, such as flooding, draught, and hurricanes. In such circumstances, it seems adaptive to adopt a fatalistic attitude towards harsh realities.

Harmony with nature stresses oneness between people and nature in that one is simply an extension of the other. Taoism certainly favors this orientation. North American Indians also believe in the unity between human beings, nature and the spirit. Cultures that endorse this orientation would have difficulty accept a positive psychology that glorifies human achievements at the expense of nature.

Mastery-over-Nature orientation is the preferred orientation in North America and Western Europe. This position emphasizes overcoming obstacles and dominating nature through human efforts and scientific innovations. The positive psychology of optimal performance in Western societies is predicated on the technology of control and mastery.

(3) Time Orientation

The temporal focus of human life can be logically broken down to Past, Present, and Future. Clearly, every society and every individual must deal with all three aspects of the temporal dimensions; however, they may differ in terms of their preferences.

Past orientation refers to an emphasis on traditional customs and learning from the past. It is associated with traditionalism and conservatism. Traditional Chinese culture has a past orientation, because of its emphasis on ancestor worship, respect for traditions and the elders; it also values classical writings by Confucius and other sages as the foundation for personal and society development. Positive psychology from this perspective would mean how to benefit from traditions and the wisdoms from the past in coping with current difficulties.

Americans tend to favor the Future orientation. They want to set goals and plan for the future. They are willing to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow, constantly striving to be better, faster and bigger. They value progress and change. Therefore, optimal functioning for Americans has to involve the maximum likelihood of improvement.

The present orientation emphasizes the here and now as most important. Don’t worry about tomorrow, and don’t think about the past, just enjoy the present. The focus is on immediate gratification and present concerns. An emphasis on the present may optimize enjoyment of the moment and the “flow” experience. For sports competition, focusing on the present performance, without thinking about past mistakes or worrying about winning or losing, would increase the likelihood of optimal functioning. In a different domain, the present orientation may be detrimental. For example, drug addicts are only interested in getting high NOW without think about the consequences. Thus, to optimize effectiveness of rehabilitation treatment, we need to shift the focus from a present to a future orientation.

(4) Activity Orientation

This has to do with the preferred mode of self-expression or the preferred modality of activity. The Being orientation focuses on the release and indulgence of one’s desires without giving much thought to self-control or future development. The emphasis is on a spontaneous expression of one’s emotions, impulses and personality. Fiesta activities in Mexico are examples of this orientation. “Being” may be related to the present orientation. It enhances enjoyment of the present moments, facilitates creative freedoms in the arts, and encourages spontaneous, authentic self-expressions.

According to Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), “The Being in Becoming shares with the Being one a great concern with what the human being is rather than what he can accomplish, but here the similarity ends. The main purpose of Being in Becoming is personal development. The idea of development, so little stressed in the Being orientation, is paramount in the Being-in Becoming one” (p.16). In other words, the primary goal of self-expression is aimed at the development and integration of the personality through self-control. This is very similar to the emphasis of Confucius teaching, which emphasizes the integration and development of all aspects of individuals, so that they can contribute optimally to society.

The Doing orientation is prominent in American society. What you can accomplish through hard word is valued more than what you are as a person. It focuses on “the kind of activity which results in accomplishments that are measurable by standards conceived to be external to the acting individual”(p. 17). It is illustrated by such expressions as “Let’s do it” or “Lets get it done.” This orientation is most likely to yield optimal results in situations, which require performance according to some objective standard. However, it situations totally beyond one’s control, an instrumental orientation may not be adaptive (Wong, 1993).

(5) Relational Orientation

This is concerned with the common human problem of how to relate to each other as human beings. This orientation is again sub-divided into three alternatives: the Lineal, the Collateral, and the Individualistic. The individualistic orientation values individual autonomy and personal agenda more than group needs. When employees have this orientation, they are primarily interested in pursuing their personal goals; they will cooperate with others only when in so doing advances their personal interests. This kind of attitude will likely get the employees into trouble when they work in a culture than values cooperation and teamwork.

Collaterality emphasizes individuals as part of a social group. The prototype of collaterality is biologically related sibling relationships. A Collateral orientation places the welfare of the group above that of the individual. For example, for a traditional Chinese the family always comes first before the individual. Thus, parents and sometime older siblings are expected to sacrifice self-interests for the sake of the younger children and the welfare of the entire family.

Lineality emphasizes that “individuals are biologically and culturally related to each other though time. There is, in other words, always a Lineal principle in relationships which is derived both from the biological givens of age and generational differences and form the fact of cultural continuity” (p.18). When the Lineal principle is dominant, the continuity of group goals through time and succession of leadership positions become more important individual performance. A Lineally oriented group tends to hierarchical, because it favors a clear and continuous line of authority. Its emphasis on cultural continuity makes it resistant to change. Examples of Lineality include the aristocracy of England and the caste system in India.

Clearly, some of the value orientations tend to hang together. For example, mastery-over-nature, future-orientation, doing and individualistic preference tend to go together and are common in North America. On the basis these values, Americans are free to compete and pursue their dreams of success, which is usually measured by material acquisitions. There is a strong sense of optimism in future success because of the abundant opportunities in a democratic, affluent society.

The current form of Positive Psychology or optimal functioning may be considered a logical, natural product of two decades of peace and prosperity in America. However, a different form of positive psychology and optimal function may be needed for cultures with very different value orientations

The underlying assumptions of Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s value-orientations incorporate normative cognitive (thoughts about life), conative (inclinations towards a particular course of action), and affective (feelings about what is desirable or preferable) elements. They also include existential assumptions about human nature and the nature of the universe. Thus, value-orientations reflect the both normative and existential assumptions of each culture; in other words, they reflect different worldviews.

The Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck model may be criticized for including only a very limited set of cultural characteristics (Carter, 1991). For example, cultural anthropology has found people in every culture seek answers regarding spiritual/existential questions. Therefore, we propose that cultural value-orientations need to include two foundational questions regarding religion and the meaning of human existence.

(6) Religious Orientation

This is concerned with questions such as: Where is God? What is God like? How can I know Him? What does God want from me? There are three basic types of answers: Atheistic, agnostic, and theistic. A predominantly secular-humanistic culture or a strongly communistic society would prefer an atheistic position. From this standpoint, the good life or optimistic functioning completely depends on human efforts, and there is no need to evoke God’s name, whatever the situation.

A highly educated and technologically advanced nation may also favor the agnostic alternative. According to this position, the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved; therefore, we should not take God-concept seriously, nor should we rely on faith in God in our quest for optimal functioning, even in extreme situations.

The theistic alternative assumes that God exists, although conceptions of God differ. These may range Hindu belief in pantheism, the Christian belief in one God and some aboriginal people’s belief in the presence of a divine spirit in nature. There are also cultural differences in beliefs regarding God’s role in human lives. In America, according to Gallop polls, it is not uncommon for people believe that God exists and he answers prayers when we need Him. However, some Muslin countries, such as Iran and Afghanistan, take religion much more seriously than in the West, and it dominates every aspect of their society. Progress and performance are likely to be hindered, when education, economy, and all government policies are subject to the dictates of religious authorities, as in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

In North America, where individuals are free to pursue comfort and happiness either in organized religions or in personalized spirituality, most of the studies indicate that religious beliefs and practices are positively correlated with various social and health indicator (e.g., Koenig, 1994, 2001, 2002). Furthermore, the so-called Protestant work ethics has encouraged individual productivity and capitalism (Weber, 2001). Therefore, in North America, religious faith and self-reliance seem to work in concert in promoting high performance.

For Eastern Indians, the situation is again rather different. Individuals are socialized with an emphasis on collectivist values, because of their caste system and their religious beliefs (Saraswathi & Pai, 1997). Personal identify is derived from one’s lineage, caste and community. There is also an emphasis on the interdependence between individuals and nature or cosmos.

Hinduism, the indigenous religions of India, prescribes a way of life based on varna and ashrama (Kanitak & Cole, 1995). Varna has to do with one’s caste or social category. Asharam refers to the ideal life course, a pattern of four stages: student, householder, hermit and the renouncer of the world. The basic concepts of Hinduism are Dharma and Karma. Dharma refers to the moral code, a disciplined, dutiful way of life (Gupta, 1991). Thus, the ideal life, the most positive way of life, is “the orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature and destiny” (p.167). Dharma requires one to fulfill one’s duty to one’s family, community and nation and to be in harmony with comic order. Dharma is the path leading to personal liberation.

Karma refers to the law of cause and effect in this life and beyond. One’s behavior in previous lives is believed to be responsible for the present position one is born into. The totality of one’s behavior, both good and bad, in this life affects one’s next life. The ultimate goal is to be freed from the cycle of reincarnation and to reach God. Self-knowledge, dutiful, selfless services to humankind and religious service without thoughts of reward will contribute to the optimal functioning of reaching God. “Hinduism is a mystical religion, leading the devotee to personally experience the Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one (Suramuniyaswami, 1993, p.528).

Given the importance of Hindu religious values and beliefs for many Indians, positive psychology in counseling needs to facilitate their quest for inner serenity and personal liberation through moral and religious duties. To use a reward system that is based on individual performance without taking into account of the importance of Varna or Dharma can be counterproductive (Wong, in press.).

The above examples indicate that the dimension of religious is no less important than the five value-orientations identified by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck with respect to cultural differences in optimal functioning.

(7) Existential Orientation

This is concerned with the assumptions regarding the nature and purpose of human existence. This human quest for meaning seems universal, and it is one of the oldest, most persistent philosophical concerns. We are all familiar with questions such as: What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What is life all about? Therefore, existential orientation should be considered as one of the fundamental cultural value-orientations.

There are again three basic types of responses to this existential question: (a) There is no meaning in life; (b) there is no inherent meaning in life, but one can create meaning through one’s own effort; (c) there is inherent and ultimate meaning to be discovered.

For nations as well as individuals that deny the possibility of meaning, hedonism or nihilism is likely to be the result. If there is no God and no meaning, then anything goes. Consequently, one’s approach to life is likely to be: “Let’s eat and drink and have fun, because tomorrow we die.” A meaningless existence is self-handicapping and self-destructive. Generally, lack of meaning has found to be related to substance abuse and suicide ideation (Harlow, Newcob & Bentler, 1986). Meaninglessness is also linked to psychopathology (Banellen & Blaney, 1984; Yalom, 1980).

For those who believe that they can create meaning in this life through achievements and contributing to society, they are likely to live a very productive life (Baumeister, 1991; Reker & Wong, 1988; Wong & Fry, 1998). However, if they can no long function because of health problems or lack of opportunities, their capacity to hope and persist would likely be diminished.

The third alternative seems to be more adaptive in adverse and disastrous circumstances beyond one’s control. To affirm that meaning can be discovered even in the worst possible situations in has enabled Dr. Viktor Frankl and many others to endure horrible suffering and loss with dignity and optimism (Frankl, 1963, 1986; Reker, Peacock, & Wong, 1987;Wong, 1999, 2002).

Often, belief in ultimate meaning is associated with the religious faith in God and in an afterlife. Research has shown that affirmation in faith and meaning enables people to adjust to the traumas and tragedies (Wong, 2001; Wong & McDonald, 2001; Wong, McDonald, Klaassen, in press). This is consistent with our contingency model. In other words, what contributes to optimal functioning is contingent on the domain or circumstances under consideration and the congruency between value-orientations with the circumstances.

The existential orientation is probably the most important one among the above seven value-orientations, because questions about meaning of existence have to do with the basic assumptions about life and go to the very heart of what each culture cherishes as ideals and values important for the society. According to Brislin (1990), “culture refers to widely shared ideals, values, formation and uses of categories, assumptions about life, and goal-directed activities that become unconsciously or subconsciously accepted as right and correct by people who identify themselves as members of a society” (p.11).

Therefore, positive psychology from a cross-cultural perspective needs to understand what each culture values as necessary for the good life. We will now examine the traditional Chinese cultural to illustrate the relevance of our contingency model primarily with respective to the existential and religious orientations.

As the world’s most populous nation, and the world’s oldest continuous civilization, the Chinese are a very resilient people, and they offer a helpful object lesson on optimal functioning. However, as a people, they are also heterogeneous and complex, and it is difficulty to pigeonhole them into categories, because of their holistic and integrative approach towards life and life’s many pressing problem. For example, there are individualistic in terms of personal development, collateral in terms of caring for the family, and lineal in terms of respect for traditions. Similarly, they are highly internal in terms of personal responsibility, but external in terms of depending on collective efforts in the family in coping with certain problems. In fact, their achievements, competences and resilience are largely attribute to their flexible and holistic approach towards life’s demands. They resort to culturally appropriate resources and coping strategies, contingent on the domain and the nature of the problem. In other words, their optimal functioning is based on the congruency-resource model of effective coping (Wong, 1993) and the current contingency model of cultural competence.

In spite of the heterogeneity and complexity of the Chinese people, there are certain core traditional values, which tend to influence the Chinese people (Bond & Hwang, 1986). Central to this set of core values is Confucianism, a system of moral and social philosophy, which emphasizes the doctrine of righteousness and virtues as well as the practice of loyalty and reciprocity. The good life is a responsible and moral life. What gives life meaning is fulfilling one’s duties in maintaining social order. Education emphasizes moral discipline and personal development for the purpose of social harmony and word peace. Thus, the emphasis is both individualist and collectivist – individualist in terms of self-discipline and development as a means of serving others; collectivist in terms of the purpose of fulfilling one’s duties towards the family and society. This is summarized in the teaching that self-cultivation must precede family harmony, which is the preconditions for orderly society and world peace.

Confucius said: Wanting to develop themselves, they also develop others; wanting to achieve things themselves, they also allow others achieve what they want. This is the direction humanity takes: to use what is close to oneself as an analogy to be extended to others. (Sommer, 1995, pp. 44)

The cornerstone of Confucian teachings is filial piety—one’s moral obligation towards one’s parents and extended family members and governments. An ideal Confucian state would one that is led by a powerful head, who would maintain a father-son relationship with his officials and citizens. The so-called Asian values, as exemplified by the Singapore style of strong central government, are rooted in the doctrine of filial piety. Ancestor worship is also derived from filial piety, because one’s moral duties towards parents should be extended to all ancestors.

From this perspective, optimal functioning should not be viewed exclusively from the perspective of the individual, it also needs to be considered from the perspective of family members, community and society (Wong & Ujimoto, 1998).

Taoism is another major source of influence in the Chinese culture. The Tao means the way of nature. Ultimate wisdom or optimal functioning can only come from understanding the way of nature. Taoism emphasizes non-action and subjugation to nature. Instead of fighting against circumstances, one should go with the flow, if this is the most natural. The good life is one that is simply, spontaneous, and harmonious with nature, yielding continually to the changing life process. I Ching or the Doctrine of Change has this to say about the ideal life:

The great man is he who is in harmony: in his attributes, with heaven and earth; in his brightness, with the sun and the moon; in his orderly procedure, with the four sessions…He may precede heaven, and heaven will not act in opposition to him; he may follow heaven, but will act only as heaven would at that time. (Liu, 1979, p. 131)

Taoist teaching enables the Chinese to accept the harsh realities of life, transcend all their troubles with serenity and courage. Thus, in situations beyond human control, such as living in a country ravaged by natural disasters and wars, Taoist thinking seems very adaptive. The virtue of patience and endurance of the Chinese people, which is an important dimension of optimal functioning in extreme situations, has its origin in Taoism.

Buddhism represents the third force of influence in China. The four noble truths of Buddhism are:

  1. Human existence is plagued with suffering. Suffering is an inevitable, because it encompasses pain, fear, frustration, pride, boredom, meaninglessness, sickness, hunger, and all sorts of things that make us unhappy and ill at ease.
  2. The cause of suffering is our desires and attachments to our passions. In fact, our pursuit of happiness in and by itself causes suffering, regardless of whether we are frustrated in our pursuit or successful in getting what wanted. Clinging too much to the ever-changing conditions of the world inevitably leads to disillusion and suffering.
  3. The third truth is that it is possible to be free from suffering through the realization of Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace and bliss. In this state, our passions have been calmed and transformed to the point that they no longer drive us.
  4. The path to Nirvana is through self-discipline in the eightfold path and the eventual attainment of enlightenment. The experience of personal liberation can be shared with others only through compassion and love.

The positive psychology according to Buddhism (Levine, 2000) is that it liberates people from the bondage of desires, protects people from the losses and sufferings, and at the same time enables them to enjoy peace of mind and the simple pleasures of life.

Buddhism appeals to the Chinese who have endured many hardships and adversities throughout history. It gives them an abiding sense of meaning and inner peace in the midst of incomprehensive and uncontrollable evils.

Mahayana Buddhism, the distinct school of Buddhism development in China, emphasises the importance of transcending self-interests and showing compassion and love to all sentient beings (Bush, 1977). Human beings are not the measures of all things, because they are just a small part of the universe, and their behaviors are subject to the law of karma – the total cause and effect beyond the immediate world.

All three religious/philosophical systems emphasize acceptance of reality, the importance of relationships, and the need for attaining wisdom. Thus, optimal functioning from the perspective of tradition Chinese culture entails a mature, philosophical understanding of life and history. The Western psychology’s narrow focus on individual performance and individualistic interests will not be effective in counseling the Chinese who value traditional values. A contingency model of cultural competence will be more effective, because it takes into account traditional values such filial piety and the specific domains such as work or home. Such a model will take into account both the individualist and collectivist perspectives and seek a proper balance between personal optimal performance and the welfare of the family.

Counseling Implications

Based on the above analysis, our contingency model of cultural competence takes into account not only cultural value orientations, but also perspectives and domains. This conceptual framework can be very helpful in counseling, because it is broad enough to encompass most cultures, and specific enough to allow predictions in specific situations in different cultural contexts. For example, within the North American cultural, our contingency model will dictate that in couselling trauma survivors, an emphasis on achieving mastery over adverse circumstances beyond their control would be less effective than an emphasis on post-traumatic growth in terms of greater appreciation of life, spiritual maturity and the development of tragic optimism (Wong & McDonald, 2001).

The relevance of the contingency model is event more evident in cross-cultural counseling. For example, in counseling the Hindus, we need to recognize that optimal functioning and happiness may mean inner serenity, service to the community and unity with God rather than material success. Similarly, in counseling traditional Chinese families, we need to respect the parents and consider what is good for the family as a whole.

Our contingency model remains a working model. It needs to be developed conceptually and tested empirically. For example, the basic concepts of happiness, optimal functioning and positive psychology vary from culture to culture and need to be clarified. Our focus on value-orientations represents only one of the promising alternatives.

A caveat is in order. There is always the risk of stereotyping in a superficial manner, whenever we discuss cultural differences between nations. In cross-cultural counseling classes, it is not uncommon to hear minority students say, “Such descriptions maybe true of most Chinese or Japanese, but I am different.”

Another important reminder is that in spite of cultural differences, we are all very similar because we are all human beings, facing the same human condition of suffering, sickness, and death. We have already identified seven fundamental and universal values-orientations. Therefore, any cultural differences can only serve as pointers; they serve as very tentative hypotheses about people. Ultimately, we need to focus not only on the uniqueness of each individual, but also on the perspective and domain involved.

Finally, given the universality of human suffering, which is more pervasive in many parts of the world outside North America, cross-cultural counseling demands a mature positive psychology, which emphasizes the integration of both negative and positive aspects of human existence, resulting in a higher order of positive experience, as illustrated by tragic optimism (Wong & McDonald, 2001).


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