Another take on cultural identity

Here is another article I wrote on “the Kiwi Face” and briefly distinguishes between New Zealand’s individualistic culture from other more community focused cultures like in Asia- click to read : The Kiwi Face

As mentioned in that article, Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension research (commissioned by IBM) is one well-known longitudinal study that examines cultural differences. He suggests that values in the workplace is strongly influenced by culture, particularly by the extent of:

  • individualism
  • power distance
  • uncertainty avoidance (need for certainty versus tolerance for ambiguity)
  • task versus relationship
  • long term versus short term orientation

While I find his research to be very interesting and a lazy/quick way to understand culture, I also find his take on culture to be rather negative. For example, he states “Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster.” (see Having lived in many different cultural settings, I believe that cultural differences can cause conflict, but conflict is not always a nuisance. In fact, it can lead to synergy! Culture can be conflict AND synergy. If you are familiar with conflict studies, then this is generally the perspective of the conflict transformation framework which doesnt regard conflict as something that must always be shunned.

For example, one thing I appreciate from non-conflict avoidant cultures is the desire to discuss conflict with the desire to attain harmony, synergy and ultimately progress. But I also appreciate how Asian cultures prize relationships over task, even if it means sacrificing individual desires for the greater good. This may mean not creating conflict when there is no real need for it!

As my wise mother always says, “Everything in balance!”. There are strong points and weaknesses in each culture. The true bridge-builder, rather than saying things like “if they come to our country, they need to adopt our ways, and if they don’t like it, they should go home”, astutely seeks the best of others and examines the weaknesses in our selves. We can learn from others and share part of ourselves. Clearly, this world needs more bridge-builders.



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