Culture Is The Best Teacher

Culture is essentially the collective wisdom gathered by thousands of generations of our forefathers. That’s why we should have faith in it.

To give you an example of what I mean with this, let’s look at what cultures have to teach us about dealing with uncertainty. In his application “Culture Compass”, Geert Hofstede writes about the dimension of uncertainty avoidance that it deals with the question whether we should “try to control the future or just let it happen?”

According to him, cultures who have a high degree of uncertainty avoidance feel a greater deal of anxiety, have a stronger urge to work hard, show a strong need to avoid failure, and have a strong need for laws and rules. Germany is one country that has a reasonably high degree of uncertainty avoidance, and I am sure you have already heard yourself that everything in Germany is very well planned-through, structured, and rule-based.

Ironically, however, it was the German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke who said that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”.

This way of thinking is a result out the opposite belief, namely that we can not control the future. People who have this kind of belief are more likely to be relaxed, they show less focus on rules, and in turn they show a much higher degree of flexibility. As an example, people in African countries are very strongly focused on the present. Instead of working according to plans and instead of starting to work highly in advance, foreigners will often have to get used to things being done very much last minute. In return, however, people from some African countries like Ghana are known to show an amazing degree of flexibility and adaptability to unforeseeable circumstances.

Both these ways of thinking have their very own strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, both of them also have their very own historical reasons for why they have developed. In the end, it all comes down to natural selection: the two ways of thinking have evolved in different areas of the world in very different ways, because the people there have faced very different environments in which one approach or the other might suit the local conditions better.

While all cultures have their very own approach to how they deal with uncertainty, all approaches have their own raison d’être.

In the end, the most effective way of dealing with uncertainty is going to be an effective combination of both approaches to uncertainty. First, we should start by creating a plan on how to deal with any particular situation. Next, we should remain flexible and adaptable to the changing circumstances. Just like Helmuth von Moltke’s statement that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy suggests.

If you are observing the different cultures you have been exposed to carefully, you will find that all of them have their own unique pieces of wisdom of how to deal with just about any aspect of life. We just have to remain open, keen observers of our environment, and then make these pieces of wisdom our own.


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