GTSH5/2 Examining Power Distance and Individualism


The Dimension of Power Distance

This is defined as follows:

Power Distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.”

Large Power Difference

A Large Power Difference would typically mean that the less powerful members have little or no say in decision making and the exercise of power and they are compliant with the demands of the powerful.  Might is considered right and so whoever holds the power is, by definition, right.  Power is based on tradition, family and force. Political change arises from revolution. Typically privilege and wealth accompany power and that inequality is also expected and accepted by all. Status and position are important along with their symbols. Decisions are passed down and so there is a high level of dependence upon “superiors”. This dependence polarises emotionally between those who prefer it and those who only passively accept it.  There is also a high reliance upon formal rules and the person considered to be a good boss is seen as a benevolent autocrat or “good father”.

Small Power Difference

A Small Power Difference means that the powerful are close to and accessible by the less powerful who are expected to critique and influence the powerful. The use of power must be legitimate and follow the criteria of “good and evil”. Power is based on formal position, which is there for convenience, expertise and rewards. All have equal rights and political change arises from the evolution of rules and elections. There are fewer supervisors and lower levels of dependence with less reliance upon superiors and formal rules, for instance managers will solve problems with the aid of their subordinates who expect to be consulted. There is less inequality due to position, so pay ranges between the top and bottom of organisations is less than with large Power Differences. The privileges of rank and status symbols are frowned upon.

Cultural Contrasts

Small Power Distance

Large Power Distance

Inequalities among people should be minimized and all should have equal rights. Inequalities among people are expected and desired and the powerful should have the privileges.
Less and more powerful people should be independent. Less powerful people should be dependent.
Power is based on position and the use of power should be legitimate and good. Power is based on family, tradition or charisma. Might prevails; whoever holds the power is, be definition, right.
The less powerful are comfortable with independence. The less powerful are polarized between those who happily accept it and those who don’t like it but go along with it.
As they grow up children are treated as equals by parents. Children taught obedience by parents.
Children have no role in the old-age security of parents. Children  are a source of security to parents in old-age.
Teachers are treated as equals by students and Educational quality is dependent upon two way communication. Teachers are respected by students, even outside of class, and educational quality is dependent upon teachers’ excellence.
Teachers expect initiative from their students. Students expect teachers to take all the initiative.
Teachers are experts who transfer knowledge. Teachers are gurus transferring wisdom.
The views of less educated people are more authoritarian than the more educated. Both more and less educated people have equally authoritarian views.
In organisations there are fewer supervisory personnel and subordinates expect to be consulted. In organisations there are more supervisory personnel and subordinates expect to be told what to do.
Privilege and associated status symbols are frowned upon. Privilege and associated status symbols are normal and popular.
The ideal boss is the clever and resourceful democrat. The ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat, a father figure.
Manual work and office work have the same status. Office work is more highly valued than manual work.
Political change is by organised process, step by step. Political change is y revolution.
Scandals finish political careers. Scandals are covered up.

 

Rankings and Comparisons

According to the indexes the countries with the equal largest Power Difference are Malaysia and Slovakia and the smallest are Austria and Israel. The European Union countries and the United States are in the lowest third. India, Singapore, West Africa, the Arab countries, China, Russia and much of Central America are in the largest Power Distance third.

The rankings for all the dimensions are contained in the recommended book but it is possible to examine the rankings of an individual country alone or in comparison to another on-line, free of charge.  Go to https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/ and select the country of interest from the drop down list at the top of the page.  This will not only provide the rankings but also a summary of the country’s cultural characteristics based on its dimensional scores.

If you have an Android or Apple smartphone or tablet you can download an app which performs a similar function.

Reflections

  • Take a Moment: Considering the national culture to which you belong:
    • Where do you feel that it fits with the cultural dimension of Power Distance and why?
    • How well or not does your nation’s culture fit with what the Bible has to say on the issues concerned with the dimension of Power Distance?
    • In this light, what are the challenges of being a Christ-centred servant leader in your country’s culture?

A Kingdom Perspective

As Christians our concern is not to conform to the world but to Christ’s character and God’s ways not the world. So our first question about national cultures must be do any of them conform to God’s way? They may have been influenced by Christianity but are they entirely God’s way?

When considering what we learn from the Bible regarding the issues addressed by each of the dimensions, one thing becomes plain; the dimensions are of the world and we find that the Bible does not align well with them. In terms of cultural dimensions, if it were possible to identify them from the Bible, they would be significantly different to those identified by the researchers.

Considering Power Distance, the Kingdom has two different perspective at the same time. On the one hand our relationship with God and the other our relationships within the church.

Relationship with God

God is the sovereign creator God and stands apart from man in that God is uncreated and everything else is created by him. God is eternal throughout all time, existing both before and after Creation whereas man is not, although man is eternal going forward in terms of eternal life or eternal damnation.

God is working out a plan and purpose which is good (Ephesians 1:11) which he shares with us but we have not been involved in its determination. Through Isaiah he tells us:

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” Isaiah 46:9&10

This was part of the prophecy, made some 300 years beforehand, concerning Cyrus returning the Jews from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem and Judah. The fact that this was fulfilled underlines the truth of God’s words.

God’s sovereign authority suggest a large Power Distance, however the gospel, a measure of God’s grace and mercy which are not necessarily characteristics of any regime in a Large Power Distance country, is the means of completing our eternal existence in the presence of God or in hell.

God, unlike leaders in any country, is perfectly holy, righteous and good, and relates closely to man. Thus the negatives aspects of a Large Power Distance do not exist with him.

Relationships in the Church

The church is the manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth and it is organic rather than a hierarchical organisational.

Paul talks about the church in terms of a body and a family, with Christ as the head.  The Bible has little to say on organisational issues, but as we have seen it has quite a bit to say about the nature and behaviour of Christians, the church and leadership (see Exploring Leadership in the Kingdom). The Christ-centred leader is modelled on Christ’s sacrificial servant character and this gives rise to the seemingly paradoxical description of the Son of God as the “Servant King”. Jesus plainly teaches that leaders are not to be centred on status and power but upon servanthood, serving those that they lead. Reflecting this, Paul tells Christians to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). There is no room for exercising power over others in that statement.

Also God is accessible to everyone through the indwelling Holy Spirit and prayer. He is as likely to direct one as another, whether they are leaders or not. This makes leaders in the church equal with those they lead. This supports the assertion that leadership in the Kingdom is not about position, power and status but functional roles, each with the appropriate authority to fulfil their function. Each member of the Kingdom is equally important with an equal relationship with God but is called to different tasks.

The Dimension of Individualism

Individualism and Collectivism are the opposite ends of a cultural spectrum and together form a dimension labelled Individualism.

Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are very loose: everyone is expected to look after themselves and their immediate family.

Collectivism pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive groups (technically called in-groups) which throughout people’s life time continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

Collectivist and Individualist Countries

The majority of the world’s population live in countries where the interests of the group outweigh the interests of the individual. These are labelled Collectivist. Countries where the opposite is true are labelled Individualist.

Collectivist Cultures

Culturally, collectivism is not about political power of the state over individuals put the power of the group. The most dominant group in collectivist countries is the family.  Mostly this includes the extended family in close proximity: parents, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents and servants.  Children grow up to think of this family as part of the “we” group. Technically it is called an “in-group” and is the source of the child’s identity. The “we –group” is distinct from everyone else who form the “they-group” (technically called the “out-group”): WE do this THEY do that. In English often seen as “Us” and “Them”.

The in-group is the only source of security and protection and so one owes a lifelong allegiance and loyalty to that group. Being disloyal to one’s group is the worst thing one can be.

Exclusionism is tendency of collectivist groups. This means they treat people on the basis of their group and reserve favours, services and privileges for the group(s) to which they belong. Thus outsiders are excluded from deserving any consideration. A goal is harmony within the in-group but this can generate disharmony, indifference and sometimes hostility with respect to the out-groups.

Individualistic Cultures

Here children are normally born into nuclear families which comprise only of parents and children while they remain at home.  Other relatives are much more loosely associated and normally don’t live close by.

Children in these families grow to think of themselves as “I”, not ”We” and choose friends on the basis of personal preference not because they belong to the same group.  Being distinct from other people they are classified as themselves (I) and not part of a group (We).  Growing up, parental guidance and education is about establishing people who can “stand on their own two feet” and will leave the parental home maintaining only loose ties thereafter. In Individualistic societies one is supposed to be able to look after one’s self and not be dependent upon others.

Individualistic cultures tend to a behaviour referred to as Universalism as opposed to Exclusionism. This means that people are treated mainly as individuals regardless of group affiliations. Thus one of the most important individualistic values is respect for others.

Communication Style Differences

The anthropologist Edward Hall identified two styles of communication from a cultural perspective which he called “High Context” and “Low Context”.

High context communications assumes that much of the knowledge and background (context) needed is already known or evident to all parties because it is inherent in how their society works. Thus little has to be said or written because most of it is already known. This is typical of collectivist societies.

In Low Context communications it is assumed that little of the required knowledge or background is known and all of the necessary information must be communicated, none is assumed. This is the tendency for Individualist cultures. It is observed that, for this reason, American contracts are far longer than Japanese contracts for instance.

Cultural Contrasts

Collectivist

Individualist

A tendency to be introvert, i.e. people are an energy drain and solitude is energising. A tendency to be extrovert, i.e. people are energising and solitude is an energy drain.
Showing sadness is encouraged and signs of happiness are discouraged. Showing happiness is encouraged and signs of sadness are discouraged.
Harmony is to be maintained and conflict avoided. At work the direct appraisal of subordinates spoils harmony. “Speaking one’s mind” is a valued characteristic of an honest person.
Offences and failings lead to shame and loss of face (honour and respect) for self and by implication one’s whole group. Offences and failings lead to guilt and loss of self-respect.
People with disabilities are a shame on the family and should be kept out of sight. People with disabilities should participate in normal life as much as possible.
The social network (i.e personal contacts) is a primary source of information. Media is a primary source of information.
Students speak up in class only when sanctioned by the group. Students expected to individually speak up in class.
Hiring and promotion decisions take the in-group into account. Hiring and promotion decisions are based on skills and rules.
Opinions are predetermined by the group. Private opinions are expected.
Collective interests prevail over individual interests and resources should be shared with relatives. Individual interests prevail over collective interests. Resources are owned by the individuals – even for children.
These tend to be economically poorer countries. These tend to be economically richer countries.
Laws and rights differ by group. Laws and rights are supposed to be the same for all.
Lower human rights rating. Higher human rights rating.
Patriotism is the ideal. Autonomy is the ideal.

 

Rankings and Comparisons

The most individualist country is the United States where as the most collectivist country is Guatemala. Nearby is much of northern South American and Central America.  China and S.E Asian countries tend to be in the most collectivist third, along with Africa and Pakistan. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico are in the middle third, balancing individualistic and collectivistic characteristics along with Arab and Middle Eastern countries. Russia, the Baltic States and many of ex-soviet Eastern European countries are spread throughout the range. The English speaking and European Union countries, Scandinavia and Baltic States tend to be in the most Individualist third.

The majority of the world’s population live in countries where the interests of the group outweigh the interests of the individual.

Reflections

  • Take a Moment: Considering the national culture to which you belong:
    • Where do you feel that it fits with the cultural dimension of Individualism?
    • How well or not does your nation’s culture fit what the Bible has to say on the issues concerned with the dimension of Individualism and Collectivism?
    • In this light, what are the challenges of being a Christ-centred servant leader in your country’s culture?

A Kingdom Perspectives

The Biblical model of the church is that of a body and of a family (Ephesians 1:22 &23, 2:19, 4:15&16, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27) to which Christians have individually become members.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. …….. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

It’s God’s intent that there be no division in the body but its members should have the same care for each other (1 Corinthians 12:25).  We also read that we are to have the same mind as each other which has Christ Jesus as its source (Philippians 2:2&5)

Christians are not to think more highly of ourselves than is appropriate (Romans 12:3). Jesus gives a new commandment to model ourselves upon him and love one another as much as he loved us (John 13:34). That leads to our modelling his sacrificial servant heart which is not exclusive of those outside of our in-group.

In Christ there is to be no in-group/out-group attitude. He tells us that the world’s dichotomies no longer apply: Jew and non-Jew (Greek[1]), male and female, slave and free. But there is a unity in the body that supersedes the world’s view of in-group and out-groups. (Galatians 3:28.)

Then, in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19&20) Christians are instructed to not be exclusive but to go into the whole world to share what Christ has given us. This was emphasised through Peter’s experience when his thinking was challenged through the rooftop vision when he was prepared by God to go to the Gentile, Cornelius (Acts 10).

So as Christians we are called upon to be functioning parts of the body and the family, collectivist notions. However, neither the exclusiveness nor the partiality of collectivist cultures, as seen in the world, are to be seen amongst us. God’s righteousness, justice, truthfulness and holiness also precludes the oppressiveness that is seen in the world.  We are to work for the benefit of each other such that God is glorified (Romans 15:1-7).

The problem with individualism is that preference for self is at the heart of sin and thus separation from God.

Again we see a reflection of God’s desire for us in the concepts of Individualism and Collectivism but they are sadly corrupted versions of what we read in the Bible and learn from the character of Christ.

 


[1] Literally “Greek”. In New Testament times Jews (the in-group) used “Greek” to designate the out-group of all Gentiles, i.e everyone who was not Jewish.  Thus the phrase ”Jews or Greeks” covers very person in the world.

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