SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE: HOW SOCIETY DETERMINES OUR BEHAVIOR, AND HOW TO BUCK THE TREND
Different societies, just like different individuals, have different ways they view and relate with the world. It’s the concept of the colored sunglasses at play.
We tend to view the world not the way it is but the way we are; and it is this view of the world that determines our aspirations, prejudices, and patterns of behavior. It is this view that determines how we interact with our world.
When we think of the foreign policies of nations and how they interact with other nations it becomes apparent that just like it is a determinant of how individuals interact it also is of how nations interact.
How often have we seen situations like this-
The United States invades Iraq to “liberate” the country and “enthrone democracy.” Afterwards the U.S President declares “Mission Accomplished”; but except that mission was to throw Iraq into a series of intractable crises that has caused a regression of monumental proportions it is anything but accomplished.
The above is just one case out of a plethora of interventions that have been a demonstration of Western foreign policy in other climes and cultures.
The U.S foreign policy in particular is premised on what it believes the rules of engagement with other nations should be. In most cases a determining factor in these rules of engagement is what they think is good for other countries.
This has led to failed attempts by Western countries to impose on others and several of those other countries to adopt what they think will be an improvement on their cultures and methods of administration, and this has produced Asian, African, and Middle Eastern kids who sag their jeans, eat McDonald’s lunches, and listen to the likes of Rick Ross and Jay Z.
This has led to attempts at implementing in Gulf States and Africa a Western brand of democracy, and these attempts are made without recourse to the unique circumstances and conditions of different societies. So we try to copy what was not designed for us and we fail.
We fail because we do not appreciate that the things we try to adopt were tailor made for those we try to copy them from.
We fail because we do not understand that people groups behave differently and this behavior leads us to create models that best suit our uniqueness. What may work for one may not necessarily work for another.
So why do people behave the way they do? Why are certain types of behavior prevalent in certain places and why are these behavior types as well as different perspectives unique to different cultures?
The purpose of this article is to first highlight the fact that culture is a major factor in determining how individuals and nations relate with themselves and others, both positively and negatively. And then we will veer into using this to understand how we can ensure we do not let our immediate environments hinder us from attaining what we have the potential to.
There is an interesting theory propounded by a man named Geert Hofstede.
He is responsible for what is called the “Cultural Dimensions Theory”; it is a framework for cross-cultural communication and it very expertly describes the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members, and how these values relate to behavior, using a structure derived from factor analysis.
The theory proposes six dimensions along which cultural values could be analyzed: individualism-collectivism; uncertainty avoidance; power distance (strength of social hierarchy), masculinity-femininity (task orientation versus person-orientation), long-term orientation versus short-term orientation,and indulgence versus self-restraint.
Now, I will crave your indulgence and ask that you please follow me as this article is extremely important in understanding your behavior and how to change the trajectory if it is heading the wrong way. I will do my utmost to ensure it is not technical and that it is easy to understand.
Let’s run through each of these six dimensions-
Power Distance Index (PDI) deals with the fact that all individuals in societies are not equal and thus it expresses the attitude of the culture towards these inequalities amongst us.
Power Distance Index is defined as “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions, organizations, communities, societies, and countries expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.”
So the PDI is essentially the way different societies cope with inequality. We will explain this in full detail and use it as a framework for understanding the subject matter of this discourse later.
Individualism vs. Collectivism Index (IDV) explores the “degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.”
The core objective of this dimension is the measurement of the degree of interdependence a society maintains over its members.
Individualistic societies have loose ties that often only cover nuclear families and relate an individual to his/her immediate family. This dimension evaluates whether people’s self-image is measured in terms of “I” or “we.”
Collectivism on the other hand describes a society in which tightly-integrated relationships tie extended families and even go beyond those to bind kinsmen into in-groups. Now these in-groups place a very high premium on loyalty, this loyalty overrides even societal rules and regulations and leads to a position where each member is required to take care of and support each other when a conflict arises with another group.
In collectivist societies offense leads to shame and loss of face, while employer/employee relationships tend to be viewed in moral terms just like in family settings. Then the hiring and promotion of individuals in the workplace tend to take into account the nature and composition of the employee’s in-group as well as his position in it.
So it is not uncommon to see within collectivist societies that the families and communities a person is a part of are taken into account on an equal footing with his qualifications.
The danger here is that a clannish mentality or paradigm might be deployed where it should not and this would lead to nepotism and not meritocracy.
North America and Europe can be considered as individualistic with relatively high scores (an 80 for Canada and 91 points for the United States show they are highly individualistic societies). In contrast, Asia, Africa and Latin America have strongly collectivist values: Colombia scores only 13 points on the IDV scale and Indonesia 14. Nigeria with 30 points is more individualistic and is not as collectivist as Guatemala with 6 points, yet is far more collectivist than Western countries.
When we see this scale it becomes clear to us that some societies are more community oriented than others while others are more individualistic.
We understand for example how Nigerians have a tendency to shift their loyalties to their ethnic nationalities and how this trend must be deliberately fought against and resisted if significant progress will be made in any society, community, family or organization.
We also see how behavior patterns vary and how these can affect how people interface with each other. Think about marriage for instance.
A man who picks a bride from a Northern European or North American culture is not likely to have the same level of scrutiny and invasion of privacy as one who picks a bride from the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America. In the same vein the person who picks a wife from a more collectivist society is more likely to have access to a communal social support system than one who picks a wife from a more individualistic society. They are more likely to have more people empathizing with and supporting them than the couple from a more individualistic culture.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) is defined as “a society’s tolerance for ambiguity.” It measures how people either embrace or avert something unexpected or unknown; it evaluates the extent to which societies either accept or repel from an occurrence or event that is not consistent with the status quo. The question here would be something like this- “since we cannot know the future in certain terms should we try to control the future or should we just go with the flow and sing ‘Que. sera sera, whatever will be will be..?’”
So this refers to the extent to which members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown circumstances/situations and have created beliefs and institutions in a bid to either avoid or handle them.
As one writer has put it “Societies that score a high degree in this index opt for stiff codes of behavior, guidelines, laws, and generally rely on absolute Truth, or the belief that one lone Truth dictates everything and people know what it is. A lower degree in this index shows more acceptance of differing thoughts/ideas. Society tends to impose fewer regulations, ambiguity is more accustomed to, and the environment is more free-flowing.”
Uncertainty avoidance scores are the highest in Latin American countries, Southern and Eastern Europe countries, Japan, and certain parts of Africa. Nigeria scores a 55 on the UAI scale, but the results are much lower for Anglo and Nordic countries.
So this explains why a country like Nigeria is not that open to divergent ideas that are not in consonance with the prevalent moral thought and traditions.
This shows us why Western European and North American countries are more pliant in their belief systems and are not as religious as Africans, Asians and Latin Americans.
Masculinity vs. Femininity Index (MAS) defines masculinity as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success,” while femininity refers to “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” People in the respective societies tend to display different values.
A high score on this dimension is referred to as masculine while a low score is referred to as feminine.
A high score indicates that the society is driven by hard work, competition, achievements, and success- and success will be defined by who comes out tops or is best placed through school and up to the organizations he/she works in. A low score indicates that what is most important in that society is quality of life and care for others.
In feminine societies, both men and women are primed to share modest and caring views. But in more masculine societies, women are more emphatic and competitive, even though less emphatic than men. Invariably, in masculine societies people still recognize a gap between male and female values.
The fundamental difference in both societies is what motivates people between wanting to be the best at what you do (masculinity) and liking what you do (femininity)
Masculinity is extremely low in Nordic countries. Norway scores 8 and Sweden only 5. In contrast, Masculinity is very high in Japan (95), and in European countries like Hungary, Austria and Switzerland influenced by German culture. In the Anglo world, masculinity scores are relatively high with 66 for the United Kingdom for example. Latin countries present contrasting scores: for example Venezuela has a 73-point score whereas Chile’s is only 28. Africa is generally high, and Nigeria’s score on this scale is 60; this makes it a masculine society. And such a society is work oriented with a requirement for managers to be assertive, firm, and decisive because the emphasis is on competition and performance.
Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation Index (LTO) evaluates the connection of the past with the present and assesses how past practices influence future actions or challenges.
This dimension evaluates how every culture must maintain links with its past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future. A lower degree in this index (short-term) points at normative societies where traditions are honored and kept, mostly to the detriment of innovations. Societies with a high degree in this index (long-term) are pragmatic societies who instead of holding societal change with suspicion in the way the normative societies do view the ability to adapt and be pragmatic in problem-solving as a necessity. They plan in advance and mostly engage in a tactic called “reverse problem-solving” by anticipating future challenges and developing solutions to them even before they come up.
Traditions are usually only of as much value to them as how much they help the society evolve and develop contextually and circumstantially.
Research has shown that a poor country that is short-term oriented usually has little to no economic development, while long-term oriented countries continue to develop.
High long term orientation scores are typically found in East Asia, with China having 118, Hong Kong 96 and Japan 88. They are moderate in Eastern and Western Europe, and low in many parts of the Muslim world, Africa and Latin America.
Nigeria has an abysmal score of 13 which shows it is normative with a high inclination to tradition and a small propensity to save and plan for the future.
Think about that, with a score of 13 it is now perfectly understandable why a whole country with over 180 million citizens does not have accurate data to plan with. With a rating like that on such a critical score it is now understandable when one sees the amount of mediocrity that has pervaded the different strata of leadership in Nigeria, and it is apparent that short-termism is something to fight against if you are a Nigerian that wants to buck the trend.
We will continue this in another Instalment.
See you then.