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.

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