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Do you consider yourself more as an individual or a member of a community? Do you prefer making decisions based on personal ambitions, or what is the best solution for your family? In this blog post, I will share my insight into individualist and collectivist cultures, and how they impact the way we see the world.
If I asked you to tell me a little about yourself, how would you answer: would you tell me you're an analytical, strong-headed athlete who enjoys walks in nature? Or would you start by telling me you're the mother of two little boys and a loyal friend?
As its name suggests, individual cultures emphasize independence, and freedom to make decisions based on your feelings and desires in life. Finland and many Western countries belong to individualistic cultures cluster, while several countries in Latin America and South Asia are leaning towards collective cultures.
Often, when people from individual cultures are asked to describe themselves, they describe themselves through character traits. Individual culture usually emphasizes unique personalities, strong self-esteem, and determination.
In Finland, individuality is seen from an early age; we put the baby to sleep in his or her room at the age of less than a year, and our upbringing is based on the fact that the child learns to make their own decisions from the very beginning. For example, it is a teenager's decision about what they want to study and where they want to live. In Finland, we learn how to cook, do laundry, and manage on our own during our years in junior high school. I believe that this is one of the reasons why Finns move away from their parent's place at a very young age.
Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, look at the world through family and loved ones. When a collectivist person makes a decision, she considers the well-being of the whole family. Often those from collective cultures describe themselves through different roles in life, and they emphasize traits such as kindness and willingness to help.
It is also interesting that those who come from collective culture seek out people under pressure when people who come from individual cultures want to be on their own.
In a collective culture, a child may sleep between her parents for the first two or three years. The purpose is to give the child as much love and affection as possible instead of raising the child to be independent.
Especially in China and Japan, the sense of community is highly emphasized and many choose university and workplace according to what is best for the family. It is also no anomaly that people move from home closer to the age of 25 when you have obtained a university degree and received the first job offer.
Due to the importance of communality and relationships, asking for help is not a deal. For example, we have accommodated my husband's friends in our home with who he hasn't been in contact in years. And the most amazing thing is that none of the situations have been uncomfortable, vice versa: we've always had a lot of fun!
Achieving independence is valued in individual cultures, and asking for help is often challenging because our desire to do well on our own is so strong. How often do you ask for help when moving out without feeling a little guilt?
It is important to note that trust and relationships are built on different things in individual and collectivist cultures. The person coming from an individual culture relies more on achievements, skills, and knowledge, whereas a person from the collective culture is basing trust on friendship and empathy.
As a result, business negotiations may take longer than expected, if the other person comes from a collectivist culture. This is because it takes longer to build trust and relationships. Business is rarely discussed at dinner, for example, as that time is meant for getting to know each other.
Again, it is paramount to remember how cultures can impact our values and world views. Sometimes our behaviour is so unconscious that we are not even aware of how independent or collective ways are living. Relationships are built on different things, and this is important to remember when communicating with people from other cultures.
Read also how different cultures react to touch. You can read the blog post ''To hug or not to hug'' here.