Friday, September 27, 2013

Long Term Orientation Versus Short Term Orientation

Hofstede's ideas about long term orientation versus short term orientation is opposite of our intuitive sense.

Long Term Orientation (LTO) refers to an orientation of benefit for an individual over a single life span.  What is long term is in terms of decades.  Often, people with an LTO look at problems and issues in terms of context, seeking to adapt life to best meet their circumstances.

Short Term Orientation (STO) refers to an orientation focuses on the problems of now, but many of these "problems" are not really "now" problems but ones of culture:  saving face, keeping tradition, keeping promises. People with an STO often look at the way culture informs their life, rather than vice versa.  People with an STO are more likely to seek absolute truth.

Hofstede sees LTO as adaptive and STO as normative.  He sees LTO as prudent and STO as avoident. 

I have a very hard time reading Hofstede and not feeling his approval of one orientation over the other, or even of his not really trying to understand the possible benefits of each orientation.

And so I am going to go with some pros and cons to both and show you how they might show up in a story.

  • Biggest pros:  People with an LTO are self-preserving.  Their actions help guarantee their long-term flourishing in this life.  People with an LTO have a plan, and they are practical in fitting everything else to meet their needs.
  • Biggest cons:  People with an LTO are often not looking at the benefits accorded by the culture itself.  Morale and other intangible aspects of community are sometimes lost to a sense of pragmatics which might actually benefit from an understanding of feelings.
  • LTO in a story:  Stories of "tightening one's belt," "skipping a holiday," or "making tough choices" often fall under the guise of a long term orientation.  Similarly, stories about long term planning and reaping the benefits would also fall under this category.
  • Biggest pros:  People with an STO often fit integrally into their community.  Their acts of face-saving and tradition upholding often win them favors that pay off with neighbors as well as a linkage that results in greater community safety and harmony.
  • Biggest cons:  People with an STO often look to others to bail them out.  They may not continue working when the going gets tough.  Similarly, they may carry an ideal too far, going overboard on budget and effort for something that ultimately ends up hurting them or their family.
  • STO in a story:  The big celebrations, weddings, Christmases, or vacations often fall under the category of STO.  Similarly, attempts at harmony over practicality would likewise exemplify this point of view.
Most often, in my experience, families, and even individuals, tend to show a little of both points of view, and examples of these throughout time or in certain years might make productive stories.

I can't wait to hear what you have to say!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Uncertainty Avoidance

Okay.  The next dimension Geert Hofstede when talking about national culture is masculinity vs. femininity.  If you would like to read about it, please feel free to do so here and click on "masculinity versus femininity". I, however, have so very many strong issues about that dimension, from the naming of the dimension and the obvious gender-stereotyping such naming includes to the way that the dichotomy ignores the fact that such measures are often applied to varying aspects of the culture and not everything all together, something that we will, in fact, discuss in today's post.  Therefore, you are free to explore how the masculinity versus femininity dimension can inform your stories, but I am going to skip it.

Today, I want to talk about uncertainty avoidance, which is the extent to which a culture is comfortable with having things undefined.  To be honest, I find this dimension to be troublesome as well because, in my work with people from other cultures, I find that every culture has certain areas in which they like very clear definition, and these areas are often highlighted in the dominant language's grammar and usage, and other areas that they are not as concerned about, which tend to be more ignored in grammar and usage.  For instance, in English, we always want to know which one and how many.  We have many, many words and grammatical accommodations to convey this information, from adjectives that tell number to plural and singular forms of both nouns and verbs.  Our articles ("a", "an", and "the") as well as many of our demonstrative adjectives ("this", "that", "these", "those", etc.) all point to our desire to know which one.  On the other hand, most Asian languages don't use plural forms at all--because how many has limited relevance to them in many cases.  What does matter to many Asian cultures is cultural position, and nouns and verbs both have endings indicating the relative cultural positions of the speaker and the addressee.  Such information is largely ignored in English--it is irrelevant to many Western cultures much of the time.

So uncertainty avoidance is, in my opinion, not so much an absolute measure of uncertainty as a whole as it is a question of which types of uncertainty do groups of people avoid, how do they differ, and why.

And I find that these types of questions can really amp up the conflict in our stories because the search for certainty on different issues often reveals motivation--and usually cross purposes.

For example:
  • The horribly sexist assumption that a woman asking a man to give her details about a birth will be tremendously disappointed because he won't get any of the pertinent details, such as, the length of labor, medication during delivery, type of delivery, the gestational age of the baby, the size of the baby, and sometimes even the name and sex of the baby.  And while I admit that it's sexist to assume that most men won't get that information and that the information is important to most women, I have to admit that I've never met a man who has had that information when I asked for it--including fathers who were in the delivery room during the entire birthing process (and I have to ask myself, What were they doing in there?).
  • The attempt to get information about the school day when your child wants to do something else (and may even be asking about something else).
  • Negotiations between a client wanting a timeline and a contractor wanting a payscale
Not all of these situations necessarily cause conflicts, but they do betray conflicting interests which make our stories more interesting and also help us give our readers insight into our characters.  I hope you find some help in this way of looking at situations as you write.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Addendum: Tuckman's Model of Group Development

On the day of our last meeting, as luck, serendipity, or forces of the universe would have it, my dear friend and fellow educator, Josette LeBlanc released the most recent post on her blog, which detailed Tuckman's Model of Group Development.  As soon as I read what she had to say and looked up Tuckman's model, I realized that it directly related to our topic this week.

In the 1960s, Bruce Tuckman proposed four stages of group development and added a fifth a decade later.  These stages can help those of you who want to discuss groups you have been part of.

Stage 1: Forming

In the first stage, group members are introduced to one another.  They introduce themselves, get to know one another, and establish boundaries primarily through testing.  Systems of dependence and hierarchy bud during this stage.

Stage 2: Storming

In the second stage, conflict intensifies as the group members polarize, generally over emotional and interpersonal issues.

Stage 3: Norming

In the third stage, barriers begin to crumble as group members develop working relationships.  Not only does hostility lessen at this stage, but members also develop roles that help them to achieve their goal or task.

Stage 4: Performing

By the fourth stage, the group's roles become more dynamic, changing organically in ways that allow the team to accomplish a variety of tasks.  At this level, group members devote less energy to personal dynamics and more to the attainment of the goal.

Stage 5: Adjourning

In the final stage, members of the group see the end of the group in its current form approaching.  Roles begin to dissolve, and dependence on one another lessens.  The members prepare to move on.

In terms of stories, I will let you take it where you want.  As I first read the list of stages, these stages seemed apparent in the following situations:
  • Parents and children from birth to the time they leave home
  • School classes or groups of school friends
  • Sports teams
  • Groups of parents gathering around children's activities
  • Teams at the office
I hope that these stages help inform your stories as much as I feel them informing mine!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Indvidiualism vs. Collectivism

Individualism vs. collectivism refers to the extent in which a society embraces the independence of the individual and also the responsibility of the community to take care of its own.

To be honest, hearing people talk about this dimension often troubles me because their discussion often assumes an all-or-nothing mentality, as if we are all either anarchists or conformists, when in reality we all lie on a spectrum, varying in degree of individuals and members of collectives at any given moment and/or any given situation.


The individualism vs. collectivism dimension opens whole facets to stories that lie relatively untouched. Rather than explain in generalities, here are simply some questions related to this dimension that might open up new avenues in your stories.

  • What is a family trait that belongs to a side of your family?  To what extant to you identify with it?  To what extant do you feel compelled to identify with it?
  • Name something you've done because you think it's what everybody else does.
  • Tell about a part of yourself that you've come to realize that is unique only to you.  To what extant have you developed that trait in yourself?
  • What kind of person are you as a parent or employee when no one is looking versus what kind of person are you when other parents/employers see you or when other kids/employees see you?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Power Distance

Last week I suggested that we consider one of those moments when we clearly saw something differently than someone else.  For the next four weeks, I'd like to consider the ways that we think about culture can open spaces for understanding in our stories.

For the last few decades, Geert Hofstede has studied cultural dimensions--different points of reference that all cultures value but to varying degrees on a continuum.  What sometimes doesn't come across in people who summarize his research is that these dimensions do not only correspond to the cultures of countries but to "organizations" as well--and the organizations take on six additional dimensions as well.  When Hofstede talks about organizations, he usually means companies (after all, that's how he made his money), but both sets of dimensions can reveal insight when applied to any grouping of people: towns, schools, classes, families, and even generations.  It is within these smaller confines that I think the dimensions can really add to our stories, and I'd like to spend the next few weeks discussion how the national dimensions can reveal aspects of our lives we hadn't realized.

Power Distance:

Power distance is the first of four dimensions and refers to level of separation between those in power and those under authority.  You can read more about it by clicking on "Power Distance" on Hofstede's website.  This separation gains its power by the extent to which the authority is accepted by those under authority (sounds a lot like John Locke, huh?).

But, of course, we have all met power distance in action in our lives.  Perhaps we felt that moment in our adolescence when we challenged our parents or perhaps when we became parents and learned that our parents didn't have all the answers.  Perhaps it happened when we met people from our childhood again in our adulthood and Mrs. Wilson become Mary.  Or perhaps it works in reverse, when we see our parent in an arena where they are accorded a status we had hitherto not been aware of.

In any case, considering the authority afforded or withheld to power figures in our stories can be very revealing to the situation and the relationships of those involved.  I would love to hear how this facet of life enlightens the moments of your stories.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Welcome Back!

For those of you who follow this blog and come to our meetings, we will begin meeting at the Plum Library again this coming Friday, September 6, from 10:30 AM until we finish (usually around 12:30 PM).

I assume that most of you already have a story that you want to write and share, but just in case you don't, I do have some thoughts that we can turn into story prompts.

As you all know, we've been in Korea for most of the summer, and I've now been home eleven days--eleven long, tiring days of reverse culture shock.

It always happens.  I expect the culture shock of going to Korea, but it's hard to remember that even though I am returning to my own country, not everyone thinks like me.  And so that is the topic of this week's prompt:  Tell about a time when someone you loved thought so differently than you that you thought they might be from another culture, if not another planet.

As you tell these stories, be sure to include the kinds of details that will show us your shock and their side of the story.  These details might include:
  • Your expectations of the day (try to visualize these or put concrete details to them)
  • Signs that you and the other person are not on the same page:  clueless expressions, non sequiturs, actions that run contrary to your expectations.
  • Signs of your own feelings/awareness.  These might take the form of comments like, "I didn't think about what it meant that..." or "It didn't register that..." if you are ignorant that the other person isn't on the same page as you are or "Maddeningly, she continued to..." or "For no good reason I could fathom, he...."
I look forward to hearing your stories!