A shared future. A need for broader and more integrative identities

by | Jan 24, 2022 | 0 comments

Huib Wursten, Public speaker, Author, and Consultant



In a previous paper on identity (Wursten 2022), the conclusion was that: Identity politics divides “societies into ever smaller, self-regarding groups.” This has led to a tendency to incite the resentments of minorities while doing nothing to build a feeling of urgency for cooperation to cope with the challenges of a shared future. Diversity as a societal issue can be a constructive force only if diverse peoples focus on a rightful fight for equal rights and on a  motivation to cope with all societal challenges together. A new inclusive definition of “shared” identity is necessary to do so. We need to balance individual needs and rights to focus on a shared future.

We need broader identities rather than narrow ones. Fukuyama (2018)  says: “We need to promote creedal national identities built around the foundational ideas of modern liberal democracy and use public policies to assimilate newcomers to those identities deliberately.”

In this second article on identity, I will discuss this idea of a shared future.

Keywords: Identity, diversity, Nation-state, Culture, Mental Images, European Union

Calls for the need for a shared identity

The call for broader identities was getting attention when voiced recently by two different sources:

  1. Amanda Gorman at the Biden inauguration:

‘We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside, (Gorman 2021)

  1. Barack Obama said something that echo’s this need. Together with Bruce Springsteen, he launched a new podcast series entitled Renegades. He said: “Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys, looking for a way to connect our individual searches for meaning, truth, and community with the larger story of America..”

“We still share a fundamental belief in the American idea. Not as an act of nostalgia, but as a compass for the hard work that lies before us.” (Guardian 25 -02-12) Like Fukuyama, Obama and Springsteen see the solution on the level of the Nation-State: the USA.

Option one: the Nation-state: Gnothi Seauton:  Know thyself

The oracle of Delphi already advised that the base of all wisdom is to “know thyself .” This is very difficult without comparison.” A fish is not aware of the water.”

In this paper, we will compare national cultures based on empirical evidence and show how national culture  has a  “gravitational” influence on behavior ( see: Wursten 2022)

A “cultural layer model” will be used, including the four fundamental differential values found by Geert Hofstede (Hofstede 2001, Hofstede et al. 2010)and a systematic comparison between seven combinations that can be distinguished.

Hofstede charted empirically the four value dimensions that make up for the difference in the culture of the Nation-States in the world. Combining the four fundamental value dimensions leads to a “Gestalt”, something new. Seven of these Gestalts are identified (Wursten 2019). The word “mental images” is used in this paper to differentiate between the Gestalts. The term reflects an essential consequence of the seven combinations: they lead to seven different  “pictures” in the mind of people of what society and organizations look like.

The different layers of culture

Culture has several “layers” The deepest layer of culture consists of the basic dimensions found empirically by Hofstede (Hofstede et al. 2010). The other layers are the rituals, heroes and symbols of a nation-state. The more outside the layer is, the more superficial the consequence.

Understanding how the different layers are connected and how this leads to shared rules of the game create an understanding of “we are into this together.” In other words, a shared sense of identity.

Because research shows that the values of a nation-state are consistent (Beugelsdijk et al., 2015), the specific history of a Nation-State is reflected in Symbols, Heroes, and Rituals.

This history is emotional and is “rooting people.” Sometimes people are willing to die for the symbols, national heroes and rituals of their country.

But not necessarily all groups agree on the meaning and importance of the symbols, heroes and rituals of their home country. Times change. People discover that in the past, the symbols, heroes, and rituals were shaped by the dominant groups of that time and can later be experienced as oppressive by other groups striving for equal recognition.

Visible symbols, heroes and rituals and the need for emotional security

Emotional unease can happen because of the visibility of the different layers of the onion. By nature, the deepest layer, values, is invisible. For example, freedom of religion and freedom of speech are part of the values of open societies giving minority groups the same rights. However, the expression of these rights, such as headscarves and places of worship, is highly visible. If minorities claim their rights in this way, it can be experienced by people from traditional dominant cultures as de-rooting and loss of identity. They have been used to the symbols, heroes, and rituals of their dominant culture throughout their lives; it creates emotional safety for them. Emotional safety is one of the primary layers of the Maslow pyramid. Only if this need is fulfilled can individuals be open to other experiences. Unfortunately, rapid changes are frequently making people feel unsafe. Unsafe feelings might lead to “cramped” reactions and polarization.

Some solutions

In case of a need to change symbols, heroes and rituals because of the sensitivity for other identity groups, it makes sense to use change management strategies. Examples for contemporary societal issues in this sense are the need to change in rituals (black peter), Heroes (statues) and Symbols (crucifixes in public schools)

Forcefield analysis

Of course, there are many theories and models about change management. But one of the clearest and simplest is Lewin’s three-step model (Lewin 1964). The first step in this model is to ‘unfreeze’ people; i.e., people need to understand why they should do things differently. This first step, the process of unfreezing, is culturally sensitive. This means that explaining why something should be done differently should refer to emphatic abilities: put yourself in the shoes of somebody else. The second step in the model is ‘moving’; i.e., after making people aware that they need to do things differently, they need to develop new insights, attitudes, and skills. Finally, the third step is ‘freezing’; i.e., the newly acquired insights and agreements should be developed into a new routine. Even though this is one of the most basic models, in most situations, the tendency is to concentrate only on step two, moving, and to forget about steps one and three. This is a big mistake, especially since the very essence of change management is to understand how humans behave.                                                                                                                              The secret to understanding effective change management is to realize that two forces are at work constantly: the force of change and the force of resistance for all individuals and groups. These forces push and pull at each other and maintain a dynamic equilibrium. We all like to do new things and improve what we are doing. This is the nature of human beings. However, we also want to do something we are good at, which gives us a feeling of emotional security. Applying our ‘routine’ gives us a positive sense of mastering our environment. It also saves energy; it would be exhausting to invent the wheel every day. It is easy to see that the resistance force will push back if one pushes the change force in this dynamic equilibrium. Moreover, the stronger the push, the stronger the resistance will be. So to make change successful, it is essential to start doing something about the resistance force. The way to do this is culturally sensitive. So when considering rolling out a change program, one needs to understand the dynamics of change and resistance and how one needs to vary motivation styles due to cultural differences.

An example of this approach:

The Economist of 21-1-2015 printed an article with the title: “The fly Dutchman. The rapper Ali B has charmed the Netherlands. Can he stay above the fray?”

The writer, Charlemagne, says:  “Contrary to popular belief, the most interesting figure in Dutch ethnic relations is not the Islam-bashing politician Geert Wilders. Rather, it is a 34-year-old rapper, comedian and reality-television host named Ali Bouali, better known by his stage name Ali B. In the mid-2000s, after Mr. B had a string of hip-hop hits, talk shows began inviting him to represent Moroccan-Dutch youth. He turned out to be not only funny but an absolute sweetheart. Mr. B’s best work does not involve his music at all. In 2011 he produced a reality-TV series in which he paired hip-hop artists with white performers from the classic era of Dutch kitsch pop in the 1960s and 1970s. The result was a fusion of two musical cultures, one white and mostly working-class, the other ethnically mixed. In the most often-cited episode, the rapper Kleine Viezerik (“Dirty Little Man”) collaborated with a former white Eurovision contestant, Willeke Alberti. At the end of her performance, he removed his sunglasses to show tears streaming down his face”.

The program was a hit for both ethnic groups. Ali B was, in this way, able to bridge the previous mistrust and misunderstandings.

Comparisons with similar value systems

Above it was already said that understanding yourself is only possible by comparing with others. Almost all Nation-States in the world belong to one of the seven value combinations distinguished worldwide. It is helpful to understand and appreciate the shared “mental image” of nation-states with a similar combination. Example: The new safety pact between Anglo-Saxon countries  “Aukus” (2021) is attractive for the nation-states concerned because of  sharing the same “rules of the game”

For a full appreciation of the other nation-states in a “Cluster,” it is essential to understand that if countries have a similar mix of values, that does not mean they are identical. Sharing the same rules of the game does not always lead to the same decisions! In every culture, different forces are at work. For instance: you’ll find different mixes of in every culture conservatives and progressives. Issues like size, location and geography all play a role. Even the personality of leaders can play a role.

Short description of the seven combinations. The Mental Images

Contest: Australia, UK, Ireland, New- Zealand, USA

Decision-making: Decisions are made by majority vote. Half + one decides. The minority accepts that “the winner takes all.’

Leadership: as these are cultures with a weak Uncertainty Avoidance, you have to act as a generalist, to be able to think on your feet and to make quick decisions. No need to get an expert profile. It is harmful to be seen as “academic” The most important competence for a leader in these cultures is “strategical thinking.”  An important issue in these cultures is accountability. As a leader, you get relative freedom of action for an agreed-upon time frame with operationalized targets. Then the leader is held accountable and, if needed, replaced.

Motivation: the key is to be able to relate to well-understood self-interest. People’s work motivation: competing, next career step, or a material reward. In these cultures, people can be willing to overcome resistance to change if one can create the image of a ‘burning platform,’ e.g., “if we do not jump now, we will burn.” The reference point is the individual employee and his definition of self-interest.

Thinking style: Pragmatism. Inductive and action orientated. Keywords: whatever works, best practices, just do it. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. “Proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Important concepts: empowerment, autonomy, decentralization, risk-taking,  enterprising, level playing field, fairness, liability, constructive, open feedback expected: no news is good news.

Network: Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states.

Decision-making: Decisions are made by involving all important stakeholders and ensuring that all relevant stakeholders support the decision.

Leadership: the “Boss” is supposed to act as a coordinator of independent stakeholders. There is a reluctance to believe that leaders or managers can define what is suitable for the organization from a ‘higher’ position. Peoples’ work motivation is very much connected to a feeling of autonomy inside their own work field. In general, people believe that they, more than others, know what is going on in their ‘shop’ and can take all necessary steps to improve the situation. People believe that the only good decisions are decisions where all the stakeholders are consulted from the beginning and participate in the decision-making process.

Motivation: recognition as autonomous stakeholder (running your own “shop”) The key in such cultures is defining “shared interest.” A supportive environment with friendly colleagues is vital for work motivation.

Thinking style: a combination of inductive and deductive thinking. The need for a leading conceptional framework leads room for “shared interest” Focus on what is “doable” to reach consensus.

Important concepts: empowerment, Autonomy, consensus, incrementalism, Interdependence, cooperation, nobody owns the truth, co-optation (trying to get the opponent aboard), open feedback is the norm:  “no news is good news.”


Well Oiled Machine: Germany, Austria, Hungary, German-speaking Switzerland

Decision-making: “planmäßig handeln”: scheduled, planned, and structural approach. “Experts ” play an essential role. To be credible and taken into account, it is necessary to be seen as an expert in the subject matter at hand. Procedures are Important. Beforehand it should be decided how decisions are made: half + one, majority vote, or consensus. It’s all acceptable as long this is agreed upon before the issues are discussed.

           Leadership: the most crucial issue is that perceived and recognized experts are the ones who are believed to be in the position to define new directions. Therefore, it is imperative to build credibility to be recognized as an expert before defining a new direction. The key in these cultures is agreed upon balanced interest by experts.

Motivation: Recognition as an expert, career access to status symbols (Type of Car, amount of windows in the office, privileges in the organization like access to special restaurants, etc.

Thinking style: deductive. First, gathering information about a subject and identifying what experts already said about the issue in the past and present. And then formulating the principles of what was learned,  actions can be discussed.

Important concepts: empowerment, Autonomy, Decentralization, order,  open feedback:  “no news is good news.”


Solar System: France, Belgium, N. Italy, Switzerland (French-speaking), Spain, Poland,     Czech. Rep.

          Decision-making: Top-down. The top person has the “privilege” for decision-making. Others can be invited by the top to discuss a particular issue. In the end,  the message is and should be: I heard what you said: but this is my decision.

Leadership: Highly visible intellectual playing the system. The implicit belief is that people at the top have an overview of everything that is taking place, and as a result, they are in the position to decide on the “Common good” and new directions. The countries in the Solar cluster are individualistic, and therefore mutual loyalty between Superior and Subordinate is not an issue. Impersonal standardized rules are essential. Inspection to see if people are following up on decisions is necessary. But a leader who controls too obviously and involves him or herself in the details of the work is utterly de-motivating to people who take pride and honor in their work.

Motivation: The logic of honor. Career

Thinking style: deductive. First, gather information about a subject before action is taken. Then, after formulating the Philosophy behind a specific issue, action is taken. Saying about the truth: The truth comes out by the clash of opinions. Reflection of this style: “I think, so I exist!”

Important concepts: centralization, system D (not openly opposing leadership but doing your own thing if they are not competent or not visible in inspecting) Tension exists between accepting the top-down approach and the sensitivity of individual rights. People respect what you inspect.


The Pyramid:  Latin America, Greece, S. Italy, Iraq, Iran, South Korea, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, African countries.

Decision-making: Decisions are made top-down. The top person should unambiguously make the decision. One should be sure that the top person is committed before taking action.

Leadership: The implicit expectation in these cultures is that the person at the top has a complete overview of what is happening and can decide the right decision from such a position. Having decided, this person should be straightforward in cascading down the new mandates giving explicit directions. In Pyramid Cultures, it is also necessary to do this formally through written documents and instructions. In addition, the Boss is supposed to have a “Moral Competence”: in return for the loyalty of subordinates, he/she should take care of them.

Motivation: Career, status, managing others, being “connected.”

Thinking Style: Deductive

Important concepts: Hierarchy,  Centralization. Implicit order,  Formality,  Procedures, Awareness of In-groups/outgroups in the context of central power. Upwards criticism is not rewarded. The Boss needs to look for negative developments actively. People respect what you inspect. Sensitivity for Indirect (high context) communication

Family system:  China,  Hong Kong, India, Indonesia,  Malaysia, Singapore,

Decision-making: Decisions are made top-down. One should be sure that the top person is committed before others take action. After a decision, clear mandates are given downwards.

Leadership: The implicit expectation in these cultures is that the person at the top has a complete overview of what is happening and can decide the right decision from such a position. After a decision, this person should be straightforward in cascading down the new mandates giving explicit directions. In addition, the Boss is supposed to have a “Moral Competence”: in return for the loyalty of subordinates, he/she should take care of them.

Motivation: status, career, managing others, being “connected.”

Thinking style: inductive focusing on problem-solving

Important concepts: relationships, Hierarchy,  Centralization. Loyalty, Awareness of In-groups/outgroups in the context of central power. Upwards criticism is not rewarded. The Boss needs to look for negative developments actively. People respect what you inspect. Sensitivity for Indirect (high context) communication.

Japan (standing alone)

Decision-making: intensive consultations top-down and bottom-up. HoRenSo,


Leadership: a strict but fair parentlike style is appreciated.

Motivation: Constant improvements, loyalty to the organization

Thinking style: Deductive

Important concepts: Dynamic Equilibrium. Constant improvement, Perseverance, Read between the lines. Upwards criticism is not rewarded. The Boss needs to look for negative developments actively. People respect what you inspect. Sensitivity is required for Indirect (high context) communication.

Broader identity, option 2:  Open democratic societies and a community of values.

Nation-states and globalization

The reality is that Nation-States are not isolated. More and more, the world is dealing with global trends and forces. This globalization creates an emotional crisis:  John Micklethwait (Micklethwait 2016) says: “One thing unifying an unhappy West is a profound sense of mystery. Across Europe and North America, people have an acute feeling that their world is accelerating away from them, but they can’t understand why. There is no narrative to explain it.” Rapid changes are frequently making people feel unsafe. Unsafe feelings might lead to “cramped” reactions. .” The consequence can be that polarization might occur. This is counterproductive because It is evident right away that all nation-states are confronted with six central problems that are highly interrelated.

(a) To help organizations in their country remain competitive in increasingly globalized markets.

(b) To ensure that social cohesion in their society remains intact.

(c) To build a stable political climate where elementary democratic freedoms are maintained, even in tough times.

(d) Provide safety and security for their citizens

(e) Balancing the consequences of globalization. These are especially three accelerating changes:  digitalization, market globalization (without a specific government’s control), and climate change.

(f) the need to find solutions for ever-increasing Inequality

To solve these problems,  two options are available:

The first is to understand how to bridge the differences between the seven mental images without (perceived) winners and losers. The way to do this is, is described in a four-step approach in The seven Mental Images of National Culture (Wursten 2016)

The second one is by identifying nation-states willing to create the broader identity as:

A community of open democratic societies.

An open democratic society is a society whose laws, customs and institutions are open to correction by the continuous and free exchange of arguments and counterarguments among the societal stakeholders. This contrasts with a closed society based on revelations or a protected doctrine against falsification, rejection, or discussion.

Charles Mills, quoted by Anne Applebaum (Applebaum,2021), says about these societies that the enormous advantage compared to other systems is that “leadership is constantly adapting, changes and moves to adapt to new people and new ideas.” Open democratic societies:” don’t try to force people to have consensus about everything all the time.”

An example of such a community of open democratic societies is the European Union.

To illustrate the complexity of this community: after Brexit, the European Union encompasses  4 of the 7 Mental Images the Well Oiled Machine, the Solar System, the Network, and the Pyramid. All four have different rules of the game for democracy, decision making, leadership, delegation, control, etc. Still, they could formulate the broader identity as a “community of values.”

This identity was emphasized by Von der Leyen, the European Commission Chair, in her speech to the European parliament in her 2020 State of the Union address about the European Union.

What Is this community of values?

-Everybody, with whatever identity, can participate if they adhere to the attributes of the open democratic society.

-The rule of law is a crucial part of the system of open democratic societies. To have a morality touchstone, open democratic adhere to the narrow interpretation of the rule of law.

This narrow interpretation implies that Human Rights are recognized and that all individuals (and minority groups) have equal rights.

Because of human rights, such societies cannot be culturally neutral regarding equal worth and dignity. To put it explicitly in the intercultural context: open democratic societies have a value system in which the individual is at the core of moral thinking and behavior.

Value diversity in this thinking is something to be practiced so that it would not lead to any severe violations of the individual rights of others. Therefore, defining boundaries is a vital issue.

Boundaries and the different layers of culture.

Open societies have difficulty defining boundaries and determining what is acceptable and not in the societal discourse. How to explain that in a multicultural society?

This is especially true for the more superficial layers of culture.

Examples are for instance:

Symbols: the use of Swastikas by some right-wing groups.

Heroes: using Breivik, the Norwegian ultra-right mass murderer, as a positive role model.

Rituals: lawyers not willing to follow the “rules of the game.” For instance, refusing to stand up if the judge enters the court. Men who refuse to shake hands with women. “Zwarte Piet” (Black Peter) as a ritual for children in the Netherlands and Belgium

To analyze this further, we can see how laws about face-covering clothes are discussed. One of the indisputable rights in open societies is freedom of religion. The question is if this includes all related rituals? For instance, the covering of faces by women? If not, how can this be formulated so that it is not contrary to Universal rights? The solution is found provisionally in some open democratic societies by referring to the need to look each other into the eyes.

The E.U., as a community of values, decided this issue (see: Alderman and Melissa, 2021). The European Court of Justice upheld a ruling that companies can ban headscarves or other religious symbols in the workplace in the interest of “a neutral image.” A verdict that holds consequences for the balance between the freedom of religion and the rights of employers to apply policies requiring religious neutrality. The court said company policies barring workers from wearing any “visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace” did not constitute direct discrimination, so long as they applied to religious garb and symbols of all faiths. But employers must present evidence that such policies were necessary to meet a “genuine need” to conduct business, including  “a neutral image toward customers or to prevent social disputes.”

A different take is seen in the United States. In the USA, federal labor Laws require employers “to permit applicants and employees to observe religious dress and grooming practices,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Religion and state.

This is one example of how the morality issue can be solved in open democratic societies. Many of these differences go back to how religion and state were dealing with the need to separate powers.

Is freedom of religion a defense of religion against the state or protection of the state against religion?

The example of France and the USA

Two different approaches can be identified in trying to create a shared identity. The American way is basically to promote the coexistence of different ethnic groups and religions; This approach emphasizes protecting the rights of minorities. The criticism is that this approach leads to a dangerous social and cultural fragmentation where the groups withdraw inside their bubble. Heinich (Heinich 2018) states that the French Republican model is on the other side color blind and universalist. Everybody can be French as long as the fundamental values of the Republic are supported. People of all races, religions, and backgrounds are treated as citizens with equal rights without differentiation. France maintains no register of people’s ethnicity or religion. A critical element of that model is the French concept of secularism, laïcité, a legacy of the French struggle against the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Whereas freedom of religion in the United States began as a defense of religion against the state, France’s started with a defense of the state against religion. So French policies such as banning Muslim headscarves in school, perceived by many French as combating religious coercion, are often criticized in the USA to impose French identity on immigrants forcibly. To its critics, the French model does too little to improve the lot of Arab and African Muslims living in suburban public housing, the “banlieues” where youth unemployment runs sky-high, and many of the Islamist radicals are incubated. Conditions there have only worsened with the coronavirus pandemic.

This all is sensitive and requires a balancing act. As already discussed above, one element in this balancing is understanding the importance of emotional security.

What is to be learned from the history of the European Union as a community of values?

The need to emphasize reciprocity.

Recent research has shown that on the level of what is common to all humankind, morality predates religion. Frans de Waal, a Dutch ethologist, found that this is not limited to human beings in his animal research (De Waal 2006). He discovered that primates like Chimpanzees and Bonobos even share morality. He found two essential pillars of morality: –

Empathy: The ability to understand and to share the feelings of others.” –  It is safe to say that, in general, humans everywhere share the ability to be empathetic.

Reciprocity: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” –  This relates to a sense of fairness and a sense of justice.

Consequently, this means that nation-states must constantly feed their citizens with the awareness that they get back something in return for their membership of the community of values. Unfortunately, the spin doctors in the U.K. successfully convinced the population that they were only giving up their autonomy and got nothing back in return. Even worse, they were part of a Kafkian bureaucracy in return for their membership.

Politicians in the member-states tend to blame the E.U. for everything going wrong in society. So it is not a surprise then those citizens develop a negative view of the E.U.

This is dangerous. To make it work, active information about what is in it for them should be part of politicians’ policy in the E.U.

There needs to be awareness that sharing values do not mean that consequential practices are the same.

Ongoing discussion is needed about the way values are translated in real life.

Geert Mak (Mak 2018) talks about different possible interpretations of solidarity and the policy towards refugees. According to his observations, the emphasis In Denmark is solidarity with the people who make social security in Denmark sustainable. The middle class is paying the necessary taxes. Nobody is helped if the social security is overloaded and, consequently, destroyed.

The emphasis in the Netherlands is more on solidarity to the global fate of people fleeing their own country

This difference within one Mental Image might be explained on a micro-level by the very low score of Denmark on Uncertainty Avoidance in Denmark, leading to a general acceptance of a practical analysis of consequences. On the other hand, the Netherlands is scoring in the middle, leading to a more principled approach.

To make productive use of some problems with broader identities in integrating countries from the former Soviet satellite states in the European Union.

–           Religion and morality

Some people are convinced that without religion, no morality is possible. In secular Western European countries, this is seen as doubtful. Frequently they refer to recent research showing that morality predates religion. For example, they point at Frans de Waal, the Dutch ethologist we discussed before, and his research finding that morality is not limited to human beings.

Taking this into account, the Hofstede research can explain the position on religion and “morality” in Eastern/Middle European countries by looking at the consequences of strong UAI. Hofstede states that in cultures with a strong UAI score, there is a need for a more rigid social code. As a result, there is a resistance in the strong UAI cultures (especially in combination with collectivism) to accept that morality can be found outside religion. Consequently, they resist the freedom of sexual preference or alternative lifestyles. They call this decadency and see themselves as bulwarks of traditional Christian values.

A second reason for the position of politicians in these countries is to understand the power element. A state that says to represent the laws of heaven has unlimited power on earth. A long repressive regime can best be based on heavenly powers. It is easy to deny human rights and persecute and suppress people with God on your side.

For example, in Warsaw on 7 May 2019, a Polish psychotherapist and civil rights activist was arrested because she was not adhering to article 196, ‘Insulting religious feelings’. After her arrest, the Interior Minister said: “We thank the police for the successful detection and arrest of a person who is held responsible for the desecration of the image of the Holy Maria, one of the most sacred icons of the Polish population.”

–           Resistance Against the Elite

The liberal metropolitan elites who took advantage of the unregulated transition together with the former communists created a strong feeling of resentment by the people left out. This resentment is now also directed at the Western type of liberal market economy.

“Central European populists combine somewhat left-wing economic and social policies with a right-wing, even reactionary, nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric. So disaffected voters are invited to escape the atomization of a superficial, Western-style consumer society, back into the bosom of the most traditional sources of community and identity: the family, the church, and the nation. The populists fulminate against “decadent, feminized, LGBT+-supporting Western European societies” They create the image of a fight between Western European nations addressing:  “the problem of an aging and shrinking population by importing Muslim migrants. While traditional societies like Hungary and Poland “will solve that problem the old-fashioned Christian way, by having more children.” (Ash, 2019)

–           “Redistribution of dignity.” giving back to people a sense of dignity.

Politicians sensing the dissatisfaction in large parts of the population understand that it is not just an economic issue. It is a matter of giving back to people a sense of dignity.

This is also behind the recent actions of the Polish Law and Justice party to hand out more cash to families. Some observers see it as “an expression of concern.” Law and Justice ideologists actually talk about “the redistribution of dignity.”

Ashford says: “Especially in Poland and Hungary, the ruling parties also play off the sense of historical injustice, arguing that what happened in 1989 was not a true revolution. The real anti-communist revolution, they claim, only began when they came to power”.

Democracy and the Need for Autonomy.

Another factor for the uneasiness in finding new rules for democracy in Eastern European countries is that there is still not enough accurate understanding that democracy doesn’t take the same shape in every country. A paper on the E.U. (Wursten & Lanzer, 2012) showed how democracy in the U.K. is different from democracy in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and France. The value configuration of each country can explain these differences. It also showed that it could be explained systematically by the Seven Mental Images.

To analyze the confusion in the discussions about the shape of democracy, a conclusion from a paper on Happiness (Wursten, 2018) is applicable: What is very important for the well-being of people is the perception of autonomy. This autonomy is defined as the freedom to make your own decisions and determine your future as the basic needs of adult human beings. The decline in support of democracy can be explained (to a great extent) by many people’s perception that they do not have a say in the decisions shaping their lives due to globalization of businesses and internationalization of decision-making, for instance, in the E.U. Reports show a general feeling in Middle and Eastern European countries of a lack of control over people’s lives. Citizens of these countries complain that they expected to be freer after the fall of the dominating Soviet Empire. What happened instead is that in their perception, the ideology changed, but many of the people in power during Communism are still in positions of power nowadays.

Moreover, they feel that they were freed from the coercion by the Soviet Union and voluntarily joined the European Union. But now they discover that the rules of the E.U. are strongly limiting their freedom of decision-making. It is frustrating because, in their minds, it amounts to a perceived feeling of again lacking control over their own lives.

–           Reciprocity as an important principle

The community of values integrating the different identity groups should emphasize that creating a broader identity is not a zero-sum equation—more attention and information about what identity groups get in return for accepting to be in it together.                                           Eastern European cultures see the E.U. as a positive means of keeping their politicians at bay and preventing possible corruption by their leaders. Even if the country’s culture is making it complicated, it is interesting to look at the connection between culture and corruption in this sense. Take Power Distance: the saying is “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Or take collectivism. Analysis of the rule of law shows that human rights as part of the law system are “natural” for Individualistic cultures where the starting point of morality is the individual. In collectivist cultures, morality is first for the in-group people as Lanzer formulates it: ‘”Everything for my friends. For others the rigor of the law.” (Lanzer, 2019) In this sense, it can show that enforcement of the E.U. laws is a positive influence in the eyes of the citizens. Pew Research Center’s recent research confirms this (Pew Research Center, 2019a).

–           Striking a balance between autonomy and centralization

At the same time, the E.U. should understand that it is imperative that the single states in Eastern Europe must further develop the perception of autonomy. In this sense, it is a warning signal not to force these countries into a process of increased centralization. This is, of course, equally true for the Western E.U. members. Brexit should be a warning sign. Cummings formulated the successful slogan: “take back control.”

It is a matter of survival to go back to the original formula: “subsidiarity.” The higher level should only do what the lower level cannot do. A warning for leading politicians like Verhofstadt and Macron (Wursten, 2019; Wursten & Lanzer, 2012).

The E.U. citizens perceive now and then that the people at the top are not interested in what they think. One of the dangers of a globalized world is the increased emotional reaction of the citizens of nation-states. The cosmopolitan elite, in their eyes, too quickly decides about moral and economic issues without taking the interests of those who have to live the consequences into account. This leads to support for populist propaganda. What needs further attention is that data show that most people in Central and Eastern Europe say that the post-communist era has been good for education, living standards, national pride, and even spiritual values. They, however, showed doubts about law and order but were pessimistic about health care and family values.


Because of the need to cope with worldwide challenges, after ensuring equal rights for individuals and minorities, a necessary step is to formulate a feeling we are in this together.

An awareness of the shared values could develop this in a Nation-state. In addition, this creates an understanding of the shared rules of the game.

A second possibility is to join forces in identifying open democratic societies. Society whose laws, customs and institutions are open to correction by the continuous and free exchange of arguments and counterarguments among the societal stakeholders.

The European Union is such a community of open democratic societies.

Sharing this idea does imply that the Nation-States involved are aware that their national cultures lead to different rules of the game and that joining forces does not mean that one system of rules is dominant in developing policies.

Happily, this diversity in “mental Images’ is limited. Only seven fundamentally different systems can be distinguished.

The technique of creating win-win solutions to go beyond the seven different approaches are debated in “The seven mental Images of National Culture. Leading and Managing in a globalized world” by the author of this paper.


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