One of the main principles of social psychology and positive psychology is that we are social creatures. On the other hand, I see a big discrepancy when I hear of research by Dutch organizational researcher Geert Hofstede on the immense prevalence of individualism in America and in many other cultures. How can we be both social creatures and individualistic at the same time?
This weekend, I was at the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) Alumni Summit. There are now four years of about 30-40 alumni per year and an additional 45 new students this year. I am filled with joy when I reconnect with this pod, a home base that reawakens me to my vision and calling. I feel such gratitude for these people and for our program. I am more whole because of it. I am invested. I show up.
But for me, “showing up” is getting more and more difficult, as if I see (and feel) a collision point between thinking and doing. This weekend – partly due to the new research presented and partly due my own thinking as a coach about how to integrate social interactions into our individualistic lives – I felt that collision point. To me, connecting with past alumni and high-caliber researchers is a joy: MAPP is delicious. At the same time, this weekend, I coined a new term of satiety: mappapacity. Mappapacity (n.) is the point at which I’m full, when I sense that research may not be corresponding with our applications of it, collectively. This got me thinking about something I’ve been considering on my blog, do we really connect with each other? And even more so, do the people who best know about the importance of connectedness – the MAPP alumni – do we really go beyond our own individual shells to connect? This is something that we feel – something that may not quite be quantifiable.
Understanding Group Culture
Christopher Peterson presented research on the cultural values of communities by Dutch organizational researcher Geert Hofstede (homepage). Hofstede studied employees in many countries, and rated the cultures on many dimensions, such as collectivism/individualism, power, long-term/short-term orientation, masculinity/femininity, and uncertainty/avoidance indices. He found interesting differences between eastern and western traditions. Western traditions are much more individualistic.
There’s a cultural norm that even we, the MAPP alumni, and a most positive bunch, live into. Not all of us in the MAPP community remember to act as a community all the time, myself included. This is why we need each other to stay accountable to the mindfulness required in being a flourishing organization. For the future of positive psychology, it is necessary we take this on wholeheartedly.
“Think about what happens when strength meets strength,” David Cooperrider is fond of saying, because there’s no telling how possibilities open up in nonzero sum games. In fact, Cooperrider’s very framework, Appreciative Inquiry, is grounded in Social-Construction Theory, the idea that reality is whatever the collective creates it to be. The creation of reality is based in language, the words we use to judge, classify, and divide, e.g. “Let there be light.” Dialogue is born in unison, harmony and agreement. Truth and meaning come down to the words we use to classify our experience. Language is grounded in sensory stimulation, activating neurotransmissions of energy—feelings throughout our bodies, both good and bad.
I challenge us to be more mindful of how we use our language. We can say, “How would we like to spend the afternoon?” rather than “How do you want to spend the afternoon? How do I?” We can listen more closely, go beyond the superficial, and create our reality this way. I don’t always pay as much attention as I would like to. I don’t always reach out and connect. I would like to. The time is now that we consider our responsibility in using this brilliant science in artistic and creative ways, as we really consider how our organization can truly flourish – and when.
Author’s Note: If you’re interested in a super-easy positive intervention that could help you become more mindful of language, arguably necessary in creating positive cultures, check out my blog by clicking here.
Desert courtesy of Hamed Saber.