A dear friend recently sent me a video conveying a unifying message: Matthew McConaughey’s plea to unite in “fairness, kindness, accountability, resilience, respect, and courage” to fight this “faceless, race-less, and sexless disease.” This mobilizing video genuinely speaks to the “We are becoming one” message, as my friend observed. McConaughey’s message attests to her valid point that, in these extraordinary circumstances, the “sometimes sharp edges of cultural idiosyncrasies are softening.” Her words, quite spot on! I agree and am elated to see the world coming together, moving past differences to unite and help eradicate yet another global enemy. But although differences may seem to fade in the face of this current pandemic, the way we perceive, are impacted and react to it differs significantly, namely in light of our different cultural values.
Common enemy, different cultural values
As we are uniting to fight a common enemy, how we act and react is dictated by our cultural values. And these values differ from one culture to the next. To explore this point, let’s look at one specific value: uncertainty avoidance. Observing how different cultures respond to uncertainty – certainly evident during a great pandemic – can help us understand, perhaps even predict, the diverse reactions and strategies adopted by each country.
High uncertainty avoidance
Latin American and Latin European cultures are partial to high uncertainty avoidance, meaning they are highly risk-averse. In the situation at hand, they will tend to react promptly and deploy significant measures to minimize risk as much as they possibly can.
- France, for instance, has swiftly imposed a country lockdown, strictly limiting outings to one hour a day. To enforce the measure, they imposed one of the numerous strict measures: anyone who is out must be able to produce papers attesting to their walking schedule. The French police frequently remain visible on the streets to ensure these measures are strictly followed, securing thereof the risk-averse French.
- Quebec, Canada’s French province, whose culture is considered part of the Latin European cultural cluster, was first in the country to implement restrictive measures. It led the way, well ahead of their Anglophone counterparts who then followed according to their own values – English Canada is part of a cultural cluster that conversely expresses low uncertainty avoidance.
Low uncertainty avoidance
Countries like the UK, the US, and the Scandinavians tend to express low uncertainty avoidance. In keeping with its less risk-averse culture, governments of these countries adopted less restrictive approaches:
- The UK, the Netherlands and Sweden initially considered the “herd immunity” principle, preferring to let the virus infect a certain amount of people to develop immunity and limit the spread. Sweden – who’s lax approach encouraged its people to be responsible and self-restrict – has been accused by other nations of playing Russian roulette. These countries eventually changed their course when the spread of the virus began increasing rapidly.
- The US far delayed its reaction to the rise of the disease, ignoring initial cases, believing it would “.. like a miracle.” Only when the virus accelerated its spread did the discourse begin to change, albeit confusing and often unconvincing. As a result, the US soon became the global epidemic hub, ahead of China, Spain and Italy.
Numerous cultural differences, one united people
Indeed, this disease is bringing us together, unifying us like never before. Thankfully, people are coming together in their respective communities, putting their differences aside in favour of solidarity and human kindness. And although cultural differences remain, we can draw a life-altering lesson from this extraordinary turn of event: differences do not have to separate us.
As we move passed differences to unite and fight together, hopefully, we can learn and apply this immense lesson to ending global conflicts. We may all be different, but we are all humans. Cultural differences don’t have to be a hurdle but rather a way for us to learn from one another.