Culture, like Air, is omnipresent and all-encompassing. It is so pervasive that we fail to consciously acknowledge its presence and potent. Yet, it does exist, and influences and determines what we think and do as individuals, groups and societies. There is a difference between culture and national culture though. A culture predominantly shared and expressed by a large part of a nation gets classified as its national culture. So despite the fact that there may exist several cultures or sub cultures in India, there also exist certain shared phenomena, which are a result of what Professor Hofstede terms ‘collective programming of the mind’.
Like all of us, I do love my country. But I am motivated to pose a N-FAQ (Not so Frequently Asked Question): Why are we in such a mess if our past, ancient, golden culture was so rich and glorious? Why has our ‘culture’ not insulated us from the problems of today? Why are we not able to get solutions to what ails us, from the depths / heights of our past culture? I did like the contrarian view put forth in Swadesh, wherein it is said that whenever we are under attack, we hide behind our culture. For instance, if one were to praise the glories of life in a foreign land, like aapna America, at least one party spoiler would retort – “but they don’t have a social life like us’ or ‘we cannot adopt to their culture’. I do not want to look beyond my country and see whether other cultures have been able to rescue their societies from the pitfalls of 21st century. I am a firm believer that not just charity, everything begins at home, especially change.
So, what is the national culture of India? Why do i pose this question? Because I am worried about the kind of country we are gonna leave into the hands of our children. Forget the superstar problems like corruption, violence, maladministration, etc. Look at day to day instances which reflect what we are headed towards. We are not willing to be considerate towards others. I think this might be the simplest yet the most influential determinant of the qualitative existence and growth of the society. We are being increasingly self-centrist in our pursuits. Nothing wrong in thinking about one’s own skin. But not at the cost of others. Can I really feel proud that my nation is growing, when people don’t even think of their duty towards the ‘above-self’ elements of the environment?
Professor Hofstede has laid down a model to assess the national culture on 6 dimensions:
Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty avoidance, Long term orientation, Indulgence.
A brief description of the dimensions follows thus:
Power Distance Index (PDI): Do you feel that one small individual can’t change anything out here? Those on the top can’t be dislodged as they are too too powerful, and we can only survive by avoiding conflict? That’s PDI for you! A society high on PDI establishes hierarchy across all systems, and one is not supposed to question or challenge the order.
Individualism: Are we an individualistic society – one which doesn’t mind of you take care only of your near and dear ones? Or are we collectivists? Expected to take care of each other? It’s the ‘I’ against the ‘we’.
Masculinity v/s Femininity: The former worships achievement, ambition, the chase, the competition. Material rewards aren’t devil incarnate, they are but the joys of success. Femininity is reflected by modesty (never praise yourself, no! no!), caring for the weak, ‘money is not everything’ and in fact, ‘money is the root of all evil’. Masculinity favors individualism, femininity seeks cooperation.
Uncertainty Avoidance: How about resigning from your job? Selling all your assets? And going on a three month vacation around the world? So what if we return penniless? Challenges our roti – kapda- makaan trio of motives? We all would love going the Zindagi na milegi dobara way, and in the same voice, also lament that such a life is not meant for us. As a society, are we willing to avoid uncertainty? What would happen to astrology then? Dis-equilibrium is not something we are very comfortable at. Do rupaih kam kama lenge par…
Long term versus short term orientation: A short term orientation is indicated by the inability to think long into the future and instead base the decisions on norms (normative), traditions and cultural anchors. Look at our focus on education. In fact, look at the tuition / coaching culture….marks right now….character building and personality? – puri zindagi padi hai na
Indulgence / Restraint: A restraining society considers as unacceptable, an individual’s desire for self gratification, and controls it via social norms. The former allows and promotes attainment of human drives and maximizing ‘living’ life and having fun.
Theories do not judge. These six dimensions aren’t a ready reckoner for deciding which national culture is good or bad. I am sure, while digesting each dimension, you would have pondered and analyzed where our national culture stands.
So why not take a small poll to submit your own views?
I duly acknowledge the path breaking work done by Geert Hofstede and his team since the past few decades, in establishing a structure to identify the culture of nations. His works are cited here:
- Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA, 2010
- Geert Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Second Edition, Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, 2001