- Live safely from most risks.
- Work a job they can stand.
- Come home to their family and spend time with them.
- Recreate after work.
- Connect consistently with friends and family.
- Generally, do whatever they feel like, within reason.
We tend to think something is “normal” if it matches our culture and “odd” if it doesn’t. However, if we insist on influencing others against their version of “normal”, we’re experiencing a cultural conflict.
Many cultural standards are established from the natural environment that surrounds them. In a frigid, unforgiving tundra there’s no room for compassion or weakness, but society on a tropical island generally needs more people to do more work together.
Also, many cultures draw from their surrounding cultures. An isolated tribe will only pull from nature, but a culture spread across many other cultural groups will adopt a plethora of small details from each.
Cultures aren’t that different on an individual basis, and their differences are more based on personality. But, as people groups get larger, the differences create huge contrasts.
Each culture broadly classifies across a multiple measured spectra, based on the virtues they prefer to prioritize. There’s no defined set of rules to demarcate a culture because there are many ways to analyze how a people group can decide.
Conflict style – confront the issues vs. coexist without conflict:
- Confrontational values directly addressing issues, which typically means laws will change to reflect trends.
- Conflict Avoidance tries to coexist as much as possible, which often means long-standing rules will stay uncontested.
- Confrontational requires courage, but Conflict Avoidance requires patience and creativity.
Context level – directly state vs. heavily imply:
- Low Context values explicit and direct communication, often in writing. Negative input is encouraged.
- High Context values implied, unstated ideas, often in person and with fewer words. Negative input is discouraged.
- Low Context requires clear-mindedness, but High Context requires consideration.
Individualism/Collectivism – creating the good life for oneself vs. the group:
- Individualism focuses on self-interested gain (and will often take more severe risks).
- Collectivism focuses on the best interests of the group (and often creates unique values that enforce harmony).
- Individualism requires self-ownership, but Collectivism requires love.
- Masculine/Task-Based/Data-Oriented focuses on results, information, and achievement.
- Feminine/Relationship-Based/Dialogue-Oriented focuses on harmony, context, and coexistence.
- Masculine requires ambition, but Feminine requires understanding.
- Low Power Distance/Consensual considers everyone as equal as possible. Group decisions involve everyone.
- High Power Distance/Top-Down rigidly honors a social hierarchy. Members aren’t allowed to question leaders’ decisions.
- Low Power Distance requires fair-mindedness, while High Power Distance requires trust.
Time Flexibility – how important deadlines are:
- Linear-Time emphasizes punctuality and fulfilling deadlines (and often more productive with stronger economies).
- Flexible-Time considers time management unimportant compared to other priorities (and often more minded toward family, relationships, and the unknown).
- Linear-Time requires discipline, but Flexible-Time requires grace.
Time Orientation – how far into the past and future to predict things:
- Short-Term Orientation/Indulgence/Monochronic focuses on the present and near future.
- Long-Term Orientation/Restraint/Polychronic focuses on the far future and past (often with more changes).
- Short-Term requires awareness of present feelings and impressions, but Long-Term requires careful planning and restraint.
Thought Mode – consider things with principles or applications:
- Principles-First considers philosophical ideas as the basis of understanding.
- Applications-First considers proven examples and techniques as the basis of understanding.
- Principles-First requires intelligence, but Applications-First requires experience.
Uncertainty Avoidance – the value of finding certainty in things:
- Low Uncertainty Avoidance is fine with vagueness.
- High Uncertainty Avoidance will tenaciously seek answers.
- Low Uncertainty Avoidance requires patience, but High Uncertainty Avoidance requires perseverance.
Risk Tolerance – capacity to endure social risks:
- Low Risk Tolerance calculates decisions based on past events.
- High Risk Tolerance calculates decisions based on influence and imagination.
- Low Risk Tolerance maintains healthy traditions, but High Risk Tolerance adopts trends well.
Clearly, these are not exclusive dimensions. It’s difficult to measure something based on a group’s feelings. However, there is a broad range called the Overton window that clarifies the range everyone will accept changes.
After we’ve been in any group long enough, our identity has formed into a remix of that culture and what we prefer. Because of this, it’s difficult to pin down the exact marks of a specific culture, since each element is subject to change or have individual adaptations.
We tend to adopt cultural values without consciously observing what we’ve conformed to. We’re so busy trying to please higher authorities in our group that we ignore how our choice of language, specific knowledge, and stories we believe are shifting around.
Our choice and flow of language shows our cultural background:
- People from large groups use a clause to draw attention before they speak (e.g., “may I have your attention, please…”)
- Their family’s career specializations and educational level affect that person’s choice of words.
- How fast someone speaks shows the population density of where they came from.
Everyone in a group is mostly conforming to what they see as the group’s standards. With the possible exception of the highest leadership in a group that’s been around for only a few years, each person is trying to honor the values that the group’s standards have employed.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have our own opinions and ideas irrespective of the group. But, we tend to scale them back to prevent conflicts with others in that group. Generally, the desires express via over-identification with specific trends that reflect what we want that go against the group standards.
Most cultures adopt mindless traditions over time:
- Someone creates a ritual or tradition to remind the group of something.
- A generation later, people honor the action but never experienced what the tradition served to remind.
- The next generation after that has only heard of the original experience as a distant fable.
- Eventually, everyone performs a stale ritual because it’s always been done that way, and creates arguments just to talk about modifying it.
As traditions become stories, they often develop superstition and folklore around them. Those stories often have wisdom inside them, at least with their messages (e.g., don’t go into the woods at night), but are far divorced from reality and can often spin off into new religious sects.
Sometimes, new leadership will destroy those mindless traditions, but it’s impossible to purge all of them because of how frequently we make these traditions and how much the older order would hate the changes:
Naturally, the newest generation in a group will have to make their own decisions about what to honor and whether they’ll stay in the group, irrespective of what they were raised with.
Sometimes, some well-established people in a formerly powerful culture will emphatically insist they stay with their old culture even when the rest of the people have moved on to new fashions. Those people end up staying permanent outsiders and laggards in their new culture, though there’s a possibility they’ll create a counter-trend later.
Most people, especially younger people, will naturally adapt to other cultures they come across. As they pick-and-choose the elements they like the most, they’ll become less like their old culture and will eventually become a “third culture” that synthesizes their two backgrounds. We can’t really help this, since we’re always at least somewhat influenced by the world around us.
Third culture people are in key positions to frame brand-new cultures of their own. They can only influence their culture of origin (e.g., their family) if they can provoke the members to change. More often, the members will cast them out from that group and they’ll have to establish a new one, often by merely having children.
Anytime someone encounters someone else from a different culture (and sometimes even from a different family), their way of life will be partially deconstructed within the scope of a casual conversation. After that interaction, they’ll either have a stronger grasp of alternative perspectives from their own or will be more set in their ways than before. Generally, the older and more experienced someone is, the more likely the other person won’t add new ideas to their views.
If the younger members of a culture are significantly different enough from the older members (often from them heavily adopting trends, and often through major technological leaps across generations), there will be dramatic changes within a culture that will permanently shift a culture.
The leadership will dictate where the changes go. If the leadership is particularly weak, the younger people will define all of the cultural revolution and the traditions of the past will be lost. If the leadership is strong and charismatic, they will either inspire the younger people to harmonize their values with the older ways. However, a strong and harsh leader will inspire discord and division.
In the mix of the deconstruction, a culture can suffer severe “anomie” (normlessness). While the younger people may find unlimited possibility in it, it can easily create a crisis of meaninglessness and a general feeling of instability. The only solution is to institute new rituals that everyone can agree to, which will likely be a creative re-imagining of older rituals.
Everything we do habitually with others is a cultural thing. The original purpose for many things was certainly sensible when it started, but it often shifts away from usefulness with new social trends and technological development.
When you encounter a different culture, you’re engaging with someone who has a radically different view of the world. Some of their actions will be ineffective for certain situations, but your friendship with them will help you understand enough to see its benefits. From there, you can judge which behavior between yours and theirs is ideal for which circumstance.
More differences between one generation and the next creates a broader culture divide across generations. The generation raised in the USA’s 1950’s is vastly different than the USA’s 2000’s mostly due to technology and certain social trends (e.g., Cold War).
Each cultural value builds specific life skills:
- Confrontational people develop strong conflict management skills and Conflict Avoidance people become skillful at avoiding and defusing conflicts.
- Low Context people keep things simple and High Context people learn to include kind language that hide ugly realities.
- Individualistic people become very good at calculating a decision’s benefit for themselves while Collectivist people can closely consider their effect on their groups.
- Masculine people learn strength, while Feminine people learn grace.
- Low Power Distance people understand justice while High Power Distance people understand loyalty.
- Linear-Time people are productive Flexible-Time people win friends.
- Indulgent people understand happiness and Restrained people understand sacrifice.
- Principles-First people get more things done, but Applications-First people understand things better.
- Low Uncertainty Avoidance people are at peace with life and High Uncertainty Avoidance people understand more.
- Low Risk Tolerance people maintain a strong community and High Risk Tolerance people withstand changes better.
Cultural differences arise as distinct, obvious conflicts:
- Confrontational people find Conflict Avoidance people evasive. Conflict Avoidance people find Confrontational people rude.
- Low Context people find High Context people vague. High Context people find Low Context people destructive.
- Individualistic people find Collectivist people terrible at decision-making, but Collectivist people find Individualistic people selfish.
- Masculine people find Feminine people needlessly cautious and unproductive, but Feminine people find Masculine people needlessly reckless and workaholics.
- Low Power Distance people will find High Power Distance people rigidly over-trusting. High Power Distance people find Low Power Distance people rebellious.
- Linear-Time people find Flexible-Time people as lazy and distracted, but Flexible-Time people see Linear-Time people as obsessive and change-resistant.
- Indulgent people find Restrained people prudish and self-effacing, which Restrained people find Indulgent people reckless and self-effacing.
- Principles-First people find Applications-First people unimaginative, but Applications-First people find Principles-First people impractical and uncaring.
- Low Uncertainty Avoidance people find High Uncertainty Avoidance people obsessed with clarifying the unknowable, but High Uncertainty Avoidance people find Low Uncertainty Avoidance people comfortable with adverse consequences.
- Low Risk Tolerance people believe High Risk Tolerance people are creating chaos, but High Risk Tolerance people believe Low Risk Tolerance people hate good changes.
Nobody really knows why some traditions exist. This doesn’t stop them from honoring it, and it often gives meaning to that person irrespective of the tradition itself. With the exception of immoral traditions, be careful how you condemn them, since some members need those traditions to find peace and there might be a reason that you don’t know on why they honor it.
Global cultures are simply impossible because they would require complete acceptance of dramatically different points of view. The only way they’d set aside those differences would be through a war against a greater external threat (e.g., space aliens, God).
Every new member of a group must learn the value of their culture’s traditions for themselves. The best way to destroy a culture is for the older order to be bad at teaching. The easiest way to teach is through a rite of passage because the next generation can maintain the older generation’s beliefs through feeling the experience for themselves.
Across cultures, some cultures are regarded as “lesser” by other cultures, often because they’re more informal or have more of a sense of humor (e.g., Mexicans, Filipinos). Frequently, their view of reality contains many profound truths that other cultures’ hubris will overlook.
- Self-referencing words heavily define a nation’s identity: “French” means “idea” to the French, “German” means “order” to the Germans, “America” means “dream” to Americans, “Mexico” means “family” to Mexicans.
- “Luxury” to the British translates as “detachment” because sophistication implies rigidity and emotional unavailability.
- “Money” becomes “unpleasant fact” in France because they see its scarcity as an impediment to their purposes.
- “Shopping” is, to the French, “learning your culture” because they consider the experience to be educational.
- “Luxury” to the French means “freedom” because it demonstrates the image of wealth.
- “Education” in Germany means “social status” because they consider understanding to be highly important.
- “America” in Europe creates multiple meanings: France sees it as “space travelers”, Germany sees it as “John Wayne”, England sees it as “unashamedly abundant”.
- “Perfection” translates to “purity” because the Japanese highly value order.
- “Food” translates to “perfection”.
- American culture is preoccupied with “doers” more than thinkers.
- “Love” translates to “false expectation” because they idolize their romantic relationships.
- “Seduction” translates to “manipulation” because they’re constantly experiencing the quiet influence of marketing and bad systems while also valuing their freedoms.
- “Dinner” translates to “home” because it’s where most of their traditions take place after they work, and the food is secondary. Naturally, “food” becomes “fuel”.
- “Work” translates to “who you are” because Americans seek immense meaning in their jobs. “Shopping”, then, becomes “reconnecting with life” because it’s a naturally social activity compared to work.
- “Money” becomes “proof”, since it’s a measurable (and awful) way of keeping track of wealth and family-based social status means very little to Americans. This also means “luxury” becomes “credibility”.
- “Quality” means “it works” because they’re obsessed about functionality and convenience.
- “Perfection” means “death” because American society does value performance, but also values the unknown.