In my past explorations of research on well-being, I was introduced to Shalom Schwartz’s culture model, which breaks down the cultural values of countries into seven clusters, like this:
There is another model by Geert Hofstede called Cultural Dimensions Model, which dissects culture into six dimensions:
– Power Distance Index (PDI): Higher PDI = more tolerance of power differences in the society
– Individualism (IDV): As in individualistic vs collectivistic attitudes. Higher IDV means more individualistic.
– Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): The higher the UAI, the less comfortabe the culture is to uncertainty.
– Masculinity (MAS): Troublesome name for this one. Higher MAS means a preference for competitiveness, assertiveness and materialism over relationships and quality of life.
– Long-term Orientation/Pragmatism (LTO): Higher LTO means the culture places more value on the future livelihood of the society.
– Indulgence vs Restraint (IVR): High IVR means the culture believes that members of the society do not face societal expectations to suppress their desires and impulses.
Detailed descriptions can be found at (you guessed it) Wikipedia.
It goes without saying that models of culture are–by design–reductive. One can easily create a cultural model specific to gender, income level or even career. However, for the sake of comparability, I think Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions are so fascinating to play with.
My main point is this: For any given country, there will be cultural misfits. And being a misfit is not so fun.
I’ve been exploring this neat tool on Hofstede’s website that allows users to compare the cultural values of three different countries. Try one on your own! Here’s one I created comparing 1) Thailand, my hometown, 2) USA, where I spent my formative years and 3) Denmark, one of the countries I respect the most:
From the above data, it makes sense why Thailand currently has its current form of government, why Occupy Wall Street happened, why the Danes are among the happiest people in the world, or why there are more senior citizens in nursing homes in the US than in Thailand.
This comparison gets me thinking about my own values and how I don’t fit in to the Thai society. Here’s what I look for in a culture:
– PDI: As low as it can get.
– IDV: Probably somewhere in the middle. I do enjoy the pursuit of my own goals in life, but they are grounded in what I believe have to be done for the betterment of the society as a whole.
– MAS: Can a country have a MAS value of 0?
– UAI: At this time, we need a society who embraces bold ideas for the future. A high UAI is the way to go.
– LTO: The future shouldn’t be discounted. A high LTO is only appropriate.
– IVR: Well, for this one, I retain in me the teachings of Thailand. A low IVR is more to my liking.
So, based on my preferences, it’s easy to understand why I’m not happy in Thailand, nor in the United States. I have to move
outside this planet to Denmark! Or somewhere in northern Europe.
What about you? This is a fun exercise! Go compare some countries.