How I understood the book

Note before: the next four articles form a combined piece on Geert Hofstede’s research and book “Cultures and Organizations – Software of the mind”. Page numbers for references are indicated.

So 534721_475434229166521_1088618336_nhow do I introduce myself? So you understand. It is not as easy as I thought it was. There is a lot that’s different. Not only because of our cultural differences. But because there is so much to our cultural differences.

In the beginning of the book I thought about if it is worth to study these six dimensions further. I realised that they meant significant differential traits of our cultures. But I never actually really imagined these 6 dimensions. There is more to see in cultural differences than the general trends. The small differences are as important when understanding one another. Not only when understanding those from other cultures. Also, when understanding those of our own.

These are the values I grew up with, as they existed in my home country for my first 18 years. So this is where Latvia stands at according to the research:

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Latvia stands rather low on power distance, measuring the inequality in a country. It has a rather high degree of individualism, as well as uncertainty avoidance, the latter meaning lower anxiety levels. Latvia scores rather high also on the long-term orientation measures. The country scores one of the lowest on masculinity and indulgence meaning modest and restrained cultural values.

Do I find it rather confusing when looking at it myself and considering myself Latvian? Yes, as I see things that are very different from what I see as my culture. However, when I look at my homeland, I do see these traits and they have always been present, they just haven’t affected my life to the level that would seem obvious, like my culture’s low indulgence hasn’t affected my happiness in the way I look at life, even coming from the same circumstances and having the same, rather restraining environment.

This underlines how the Hofstede’s research doesn’t really measure us as individuals, rather the deeper traits that are present within our cultures. While it doesn’t fully describe us as individuals, we will despite still have some of these values, while others might differ.

Also I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised until I am 18 in the same culture and in a relatively rural setting, which helps me to see these differences and how they have roots in the culture that I hold so dear to my little Latvian heart.

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How I understood their lives

During winter, there is one thing all Latvians eat. Actually, there is generally one thing Latvians eat, it is potatoes. So what’s great about potatoes is that they are easy to grow, inexpensive and can be stored for a long time for the cold winters to come. The cold winters back home could be a reason why people tend to be long-term orientated. They know that utilities will be more expensive, so they will have to save more money than the same class and income person would need to save in a warmer country, like Spain, for example.

If we look at the long-term orientation indexes, almost all of the Ex-Soviet and Eastern/Central European cultures have high long-term orientation values, Latvia ranking the 20th, 12th from the countries in that specific region (255). The socialist structure of the Soviet Union partly works for long-term goals, within long-term domestic policies. After the end of the Soviet Union the newly independent countries were able to adapt an economic system that fit their ways (264), however, I believe that some of the long-term values have either always been present in these societies or have been carried on after the end of the communist regime.

This has led to Latvians saving up their money and resources, be involved with development, work to succeed as a part of a team and respect the mutual well-being. These are generally trends that are present to long-term oriented countries.

This model on the surface seems completely normal for me, any other Latvian or anyone else who has been similarly raised in a country associated with long-term orientation. However, this has been different from what I have seen throughout my years in Spain. I am not nearly as involved with the Spanish culture as I wished I would have been, but the people around me in most instances have been brought up in countries associated with shorter-term orientation. Also, the media that I have mostly been exposed to (the media outlets from the U.S.) have exposed me to values that are much different from the ones I was raised with.

In the U.S. it feels as spending is indeed socially pressured and that it is completely normal that this spending only produce a short-term satisfaction or value. There is a lot of concern with the social status, and spending is often part of requiring and sustaining this status. These are also trends that are associated with short-term oriented countries. However, it never struck me as something outrageous. I always just thought

“that’s how the western people think”.

Hofstede’s research doesn’t make any links between this and capitalism, and this cannot be generalized, as there are countries associated with capitalism also found on the long-term orientation part of the rank. The two could be independent.

For poor countries such as Latvia that are long-term orientated there also comes fast economic growth (275). And this could be argued to stand true, as Latvia came out the Soviet Union unable to be competitive in the Western market, but managed to obtain and sustain growth over the years despite the bad world’s economy in the years to come.

How I understood their work

When it came to long-term orientation, I knew that I was raised differently than those around me. However, there are some differences that I never realized. I was never aware of the differences from how I was raised compared to how my friends must have been raised in terms of femininity, for example. After reading about Hofstede’s research and looking up the places I lived, I realized that there was a large difference between where I was raised in and where have lived in terms of how modest our cultures are.

This hasn’t been a realization just for me. Instead, it is mentioned that the masculinity/femininity dimension is the most controversial of the five original dimensions of national cultures. It took time to recognize that national values differ dramatically on this dimension (144). Perhaps, because they are subtle differences the society has only started to acknowledge recently.

Generally, it is said that the feminine national cultures tend to value modesty, tenderness and emotions in both genders. The kids are raised with less competitive values, rather they are thought to be useful in the overall society (165). From whenever I was a kid in school, I was aware of what is the norm when it comes to studying. While excelling was encouraged from some teachers, it was never encouraged in a class setting. If a teacher wanted for a student to do extra work, it would be arranged after class, and would cause jealousy in others and these offers would rarely be accepted by the students. The classes were thought in a way that the weakest kid in class could follow, the strongest were encouraged either to listen and stay put or help the others to keep up. This goes hand in hand with some of the differences associated to a feminine society.

This, when I look back, partly explains to me why there are very little people who aim for more, who want to develop things further and learn more about a topic. Competition is not encouraged, students are not expected to learn or achieve much more, nor they are encouraged to do so, at least not often. The practicality is thought, and excellence is not over-promoted, causing for others not to seek out this goal.

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After moving to Italy I was immediately placed in a school where excelling was everything and failing was considered a disaster. The kids were from all over the world, selected from each country and all thriving for excellence together.  The students were competitive, asking for extra credit, additional challenges and similar things that I didn’t even think about. Quite a few of these students are my favorite people. There was no jealousy targeted at those who were excellent – they were rather admired and existed as role models. While I would still refuse to do extra work, I was more encouraged to learn, read more about the things I learned about and really think about the ways I could really excel in what I do.

This seeking for advancement, challenge and therefore recognition has been a new value that was encouraged by the way I was thought in the international environment of a country with a highly masculine cultural values. However, while I might have acquired new cultural values, my modesty has remained, and I stay skeptical to the masculine assertiveness.

How I understood my own culture

I believe that the way I look at life has developed independently from the cultural restraint dimension that is present in Latvia. I always noticed that after some point in my life I realized how blessed I was and from there on kind of lived with a constant smile on my face. I also realized that I was different from the kids around me, but not until I came back after having lived in Italy and Spain. I didn’t like the people back home, because they were always grumpy, cynical and overall seemed to be pressured down by all their responsibilities. (yes, Latvia scores one of the lowest on indulgence in Hofstede’s research if you were wondering) And when I went home, I always dreamed about moving to Latin America where people joyfully dance in the sun.

In fact, Latin American countries score the highest. Maybe hereby we tend to associate Latin America with happiness and cheerful people. That is also how Latvians look at Southern Europeans, for example. And after me having lived here, in the South for years, that’s how they look at me. In Latvian folklore and culture there is the idea of an adventurer going out in the world to find the happiness he doesn’t have at home. At the end he finds this treasure and status, however returns back home to his family and friends, flying on a magical creature or something. So people seek out happiness, but find the value at home, the things that are outside are just wealth, no real happiness can really be acquired in any way.

In Hofstede’s research, indulgence is measured by cognitive evaluation of one’s life and a description of one’s feelings (278). The questions were formulated asking for the level of

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  1. Happiness: “”Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, quite happy, [..] or not at all happy.” Measured was the percentage choosing “very happy”.”
  2. Life control: The people were asked to rate on a scale how much “freedom of choice and control” they feel over the way their “life turns out”.
  3. Importance of leisure: rating how important leisure time is, and recording the percentage that chose “very important” from a country. (280)

Other traits the research shown indulgence to correlate with were respondents with high indulgence score described themselves to be in good health, expressed optimism towards the future, which leads to higher birth rate. Latvia has been struggling with declining child rate and aging of the country for a long time now(288).

So let’s look where Latvia is on the rank, indeed, let’s look at the whole Eastern European, particularly the ex-soviet countries in the ranking. Here are the 10 lowest indulgence/restraint indexes, with the ex-soviet countries underlined: Pakistan, Egypt, Latvia, Ukraine, Albania, Belarus, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Iraq (284). Half of these are post-soviet countries, particularly the ones located in the Eastern European region and the Baltic States. The research has no dimension scores listed for the Central Asian post-soviet countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan (36).

This statistically show that in post-soviet and Eastern European kids grow up in a society with already existing restraint, where curtain traits are present. And I believe the trends highlighted in the chapter. I have seen a great number of them while growing up, like helplessness, cynicism, pessimism, low life satisfaction, less connections and contacts with foreigners (290-298). So the Latvian is modest, concerned about his future, but unhappy. And generally, the cu11741278_869477466462016_5336850157491060364_oltural restraint can remain even after moving to a new place, so even after emigrating to another place, it doesn’t mean that the people will be any happier (278).

I have no idea what made me different. I could have been my family, or my connection with nature. Or my friends. Or the books that I would wonder off with. And a big deal has been moving to Spain and seeing the difference. And it is quite the difference in the way people look at life for someone coming from Latvia. And this is the element of my culture where I’m an outsider.

Fancy technology in a fancy university

At the moment of writing this article I have been here, in IE university, for 40 days. I have had good conversations, I have had awkward silences, I have had conversations that I find boring and some that I never want to end. I have also had the times when no conversation is needed; it is just good as it is. I believe that those are the moments we are living for. The moments that you don’t need to talk, the moments of purity. And those moments are easy to lose. I have often found myself really happy, enjoying the moment, but when I would look around – everyone has somehow managed to take out their phones.

There are many good things that come hand-in-hand with technology. Let’s admit – texting is the convenient option to inform someone about little things that are not worth calling for. The things we read online can often spark up our interactions with others in the „real life”. It makes it easy to find people with similar interests using social networks. It allows shy and introvert individuals to find a space to express themselves with bigger confidence. And most importantly, it helps us to keep in touch with the loved ones we have left in another city, country or continent.

On the other hand, there is so much to lose. With being online we often lose things that happen in the real life. The land of perfect conversation doesn’t exist, but it could be a better place if we had more of face-to-face interaction. And the unavoidable awkward silence can be an encouragement to raise a new argument instead of getting out our smartphones. I believe that technology is affecting our social skills, sometimes even our argumentation skills as it is possible to find every piece of information online. And it is affecting how we deal with solitude.

If you have gotten this far through this article, I would like to tell you that the point of this is not to judge or try to change the society in IE. The aim is to encourage you to observe – how many times you recognise a situation when more than half of the people are busy with the technology? How often everyone from the group is? It is interesting to see, but very hard to avoid. Trust me, I have tried.

The very last thing – imagine going to a music concert, and imagine watching the same concert live on your laptop. The feeling is not the same, because there is no technology that fully captures what it is to be human. The goal of the usage of technology is not to move away from society – we can ship out sometimes, because we all need to, as long as we come back. Technology is useful to facilitate social processes, but not the reason to move away from them.

They know what you did last summer

filterbubble Eli Parisel gives an eye-opening TED talk where he explains the concept of a “filter bubble”. It is our personal universe, where we are surrounded by the things we usually click on. It is a concept where we are served with what we usually would look for.  On one hand, it is a comfortable concept – the information gets filtered and we are provided with quick results according to our usual preferences. On the other hand, we are not aware of this process; therefore we don’t know what is taken away from us. This filtering done by internet sites prevents us from getting information about opposing opinions on the topic. This might sound like the classical “I want it because I can’t have it” case, and it might be, I don’t know. But the concept of these filter bubbles is quite shocking and can leave us living in one.

In my previous posts I have talked a lot about how we live at a time when there is enormous amount of information out there. I talked about all three selective processes, but I never realised that we actually live at a time when the selecting is done for us. And it is done according to what we have exposed ourselves to in the past. There is a danger to our online privacy, as we are never really aware to what extent internet gathers our data. As much as technology and innovation is meant to ease our lives, it is also creating scary effects on our personal space.

This summer, I read a book “The power of habit” by Charles Duhigg. It explained the importance of habits in our personal lives, advertisement and management. As well as that, he was explaining how companies know more about us than we can imagine. Duhigg tells us about Target company. They customize the special offer coupons sent to individuals according to their past purchases. The book talks about cases when companies are able to even predict how close the women are to labour to provide them with coupons on diapers and baby clothes immediately after the baby is born without them knowing. An extreme example talks about a case when Target figured out that a high-school girl was pregnant before her father did. (Extracts of the book can be found HERE)privacy_header

As much as we have to worry about our privacy being in danger, we also need to think about the consequences of these online data gatherings. It is easier than ever to become isolated from conflicting opinions. This brings back the importance of offline interactions and real conversations. No technology can isolate us from opposing opinions when engaged in a discussion with real people outside of the world of browsers and double-clicks.

It is all about a good discussion

I am a fan of a good conversation.opinion2

I love to see how the discussion develops supporting both sides of an argument. As much as I love to observe a good discussion, I also like to participate. And a good discussion often has the power to shift my existing opinion or create a strong one if I did not before.

The beauty and the obstacle of discussion is the fact that people want themselves to be perceived favourably. This can cause two possible outcomes: either a participant can be too intimidated to speak up, or they are pressured to develop they argument into a strong one before saying it out loud. This is why it is good to sometimes be in an intimidating environment – that can make us push our boundaries and make the best of our abilities.

However, it takes a lot of courage to develop a strong argument, whereas it doesn’t take much to agree with the direction of the dominant position. This can result in “spiral of silence” where the minority opinions are silenced completely over the time. This can be caused also by participating in discussion with people that we think are a lot alike us. The individuals don’t want their reputation to suffer in eyes of those who they think of as similar to them.

In groups that are significantly different from me, I tend to agree less with their opinions; also I am more likely to speak up because of the lack of pressure to be perceived favourably. I am less likely to agree with what the others are saying and consistent to express my opinion to change theirs. The same way it takes less courage to develop an argument when in a group of people with similar views. For me this raised a question if it is better to communicate and discuss with people who are not similar to me, because of the bigger probability that I will speak up my mind. (?)

Good conversation is all about the opinion clashes and arguments behind those. There are many obstacles that stand in way of expressing one’s ideas. It highly depends on the environment, the group and the consistency of opinions. People tend to pick discussion groups with similar views. But the question is if that is the best way to provide a qualitative discussion. The comfort zone is not always the best place in life.