Some cultures most identify with their nationality. Others their church. And still others, their family, tribe, or even workplace.
But of what “group” are we speaking?
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Who is Your Group?
- The Irish culture strongly identifies with religion, the Roman Catholic Church.
- The former Eastern Bloc identifies with Slavic ideals and the party.
- The French identify with their country, which they call “la grand nation.”
- The Japanese identify with their company and workplace.
While these are all generalizations (after all, not everyone falls in line with societal values and norms), these broad strokes do highlight the roots of the cultural baobab.
- “Faith of our fathers, living still/ In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword” – this hymn remains strong in Ireland. The 2016 Irish census reported 78.3% of the population identify as Catholic. Ireland also boasts one of the highest rates of weekly mass attendance in Europe. A scholarly study by Kevin Whelan highlights the ties between Irish cultural heritage and the Catholic Church found in everything from folklore to literature to politics.
- Member countries of the former Eastern Bloc celebrate victory day, are drawn to authoritarian rulers, and feature statues of Lenin and other remnants of Soviet architecture in many cities and small towns.
- The French are a secular society, so although 64% of French citizens identify as Roman Catholic, national identity is more important. National pride is highly valued and may result in personal offense toward any negativity about France.
- Japanese life revolves around work, including marriage, as we discussed in a previous post. The country is known for its long work hours and, even after hours, Japanese colleagues hang out to socialize and build strong working relationships. “Karoshi” – death by overwork – is a common plight in Japan.
Group identity is flexible. And this is not to say that other groups in said societies are not important.
But when trying to understand a culture as a whole and what makes that culture tick, identifying the group that most often defines or impacts the mechanics of society as a whole is essential.
Collectivist vs. Individualist
Group identity, social responsibility, and interdependence are values emphasized in collectivist cultures.
Individuality, self-fulfillment, and independence are those emphasized in individualist cultures.
One wants to fit in.
The other strives to stand out.
One sees conformity as negative.
The other sees singularity as deviant.
As one of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, the scale between collectivist and individualist cultures is just that – a scale. No culture is at the polar extreme, one way or the other.
There are elements of collectivism and individualism in every culture.
And sometimes, these elements are surprising.
We’ll talk about that more next week.