Countries throughout the world have become huge “melting pots.” During my early years growing up on the East Coast, that phrase had a very powerful meaning – especially since both sets of grandparents were ingredients that helped season that melting pot.
Today, many of us invest long hours learning one, two, maybe even three or more different languages. We, however, often fail to grasp or embrace the bigger picture. Language – and our true ability to communicate – is embedded into a historical and cultural backdrop. Aspects of those elements are etched into our core. It is from that core that we each understand, comprehend, engage in and act upon requests. Instructions we convey, requests we make – even our simple interactions – spring from that core. Oftentimes this backdrop or landscape remains in the shadows as we utter words and phrases, and engage in behaviors we expect others to respond to and understand.
As we attempt to actively interact and participate – personally and professionally – on the world stage, a solid comprehension – not just a superficial understanding – of this cultural dynamic is essential. This critical need has become glaringly obvious to me as I explore the future direction of my own Cultural Anthropology course work and try to piece together the intersecting pieces of data and information that drift across my path – causing me intrigue and inspiration.
Although I am grateful for my academic training, expertise, and exposure within the science and field of Marketing, this discipline alone often does not dig deep or broad enough to offer a truly comprehensive picture. Cultural Anthropology, on the other hand, embraces a deeper, more expansive landscape for understanding, comprehending, and embracing the true nature of a people.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares several stories that convey the importance of embracing a comprehensive approach – one that includes history, culture, and conduct – when interacting and working within a multi-cultural environment. One story in particular caught my attention. It is the story of the crash of the Colombian airliner Avianca in January 1990 (also see Chapter 7 – The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes p. 177-223).
In an attempt to offer us a window into this dynamic global landscape and provide a broader and more meaningful context, Gladwell, through this book, introduces us to the work of Geert Hofstede and …
Hofstede focuses on the manner in which culture is acquired. In his book Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, he explains that individuals within a specific society undergo a type of “mind programming” (mostly unconscious) when born into or immersed in a “collective nature” type environment – such as societies, cultures, families, etc.
While he does concede that culture is “an imaginary thing” he, nonetheless, believes culture performs a very useful function and is the “glue that keeps societies (and organizations) together.” Culture provides the “unwritten rules of the social (and/or organizational) game.” He affirms it to be “useful to understand the world and predict certain aspects within a society.”
Hofstede proposes a method for “unpackaging the holistic concept of culture.” He suggests the use of six dimensions or elements within a culture. He also suggests that these elements might also offer a way to compare countries :
- Power distance
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Pragmatism, and
The details and descriptions offered for each of these elements – as well as the profound embedded, hidden “power” of each – are fascinating. Two elements in particular however, captivated and intrigued me:
- Power distance index (PDI)
This dimension offers an explanation for the emotional relationship (or distance) that exists between persons at the top and persons below. As Gladwell demonstrates, the true dynamics of this element manifest themselves or become apparent particularly during communication and conveyance of information – especially during interactions between authorities and subordinates.
According to Hofstede, the term “power distance” derived from The Daily Power Game a book by Mauk Mulder, a Dutch Social Psychologist, and is described as follows: “…the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.”
- Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI)
This dimension offers an explanation for how a culture tolerates ambiguity and is described by Hofstede as: “…the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong UAI (Uncertainty Avoidance Index) maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.
While Hofstede notes that he has no intention of being judgmental – one style is better or worse than another – he does claim that this element reflects how a society (and its people) rely on “rules and plans” and how likely they are to stick to procedures regardless of circumstances. While he admits that this concept is complex, a symbiotic relationship can often be drawn between stress/anxiousness in relationship to this level of ambiguity (uncertainty).
Again, according to Hofstede, the top 3 countries that demonstrate the strongest “uncertainty avoidance” include:
The 3 countries, according to Hofstede, that best reflect a lack of “uncertainty avoidance” include:
When asked if he thought it was possible as a result of the use of technology – specifically the Internet – for the creation of one single worldwide culture, Hofstede rejected this possibility. Citing his many years of work in the field and referencing The World Value Survey, he concluded that feelings and values still differed enough to maintain a type of separateness (and thus an identity); plus, he questioned what that single worldwide culture would look like – U.S., Russian, Swedish, etc.
Hmmm…one single culture…
What do you think…given the nature of our current international circumstances is one single worldwide culture possible… ??
If so, what do you think it would look like…??
Crafted, researched and written by: |LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2014 EM Carlock
Graphic credits: rhymesambiguity.png or www.neurolang.com and gleadallj84.blogspot.com