Formal systems are characterized by a great deal of “stability”, which is a feature that satisfies a deep need in all societies and individuals.
Except for some special circumstances, the formal changes slowly, almost imperceptibly. It also resists to an outer forced change. Usually Americans and Western Europeans are the ones believing that the formal systems of other peoples are immoral, insane, useless, backward (for example, in some areas of the Arabic world it is insane to clean running water – people there refuse to receive help for cleaning water and installing pumps).
First, we must understand and accept the formal systems of other peoples, in order to be able to work efficiently within them. Other examples: Americans used to hire Japanese builders according to technical qualifications – a natural error, the Japanese workers were upset because social hierarchy was not taken into account. The solution – allowing workers to choose their own leaders among the ones that had an adequate status. It didn’t matter they were old, didn’t speak English and didn’t know anything about engineering. BUT they could immediately choose young engineers as advisers. In the same way, the Taos Indians didn’t like white people, but after many tries they accepted the advice of a young agriculturer. Nevertheless when spring came the Indians got upset. The young man wanted to implement an early ploughing programme but he didn’t know Taos Indians believed that Mother Earth was pregnant in spring. And in order to protect the surface they didn’t drive the cars to town, took out the horses’ horseshoes and refused to wear they themselves hard shoes!
Very often, however, the conflict between different formal systems in various cultures may have a tragic ending. During the Spanish conquest of the New World, the Spanish people fought to kill and the Aztecs to take prisoners. Consequently, the Aztecs had to lose, having to do with an enemy that was killing in the battle. Because this was a formal system, the Aztecs couldn’t change it in due time to save themselves and their society.
The formal offers a wide perspective, whose margins the individuals-actors can fill with details for themselves. If they stay between these limits, life goes on calmly. If not, they are in trouble.
By Raluca Filip