ANGELS AND SAMARITANS
Order and Impulse in our Quest to Do Good.
The desire to do good, it can be argued, is a fundamental human motive. And further, is a basic prerequisite for nation building. In this article, the author explores the different cultural contexts in which nations judge what is good. The analysis contrasts two instruments by which doing good may be measured—the Good Country Index created by international policy advisor Simon Anholt, and the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index. The article further discusses both in light of Geert Hofstede’s six dimensions of Cultural Difference. Using this analysis, the author demonstrates how Hofstede’s dimensions of Individualism (IDV) and Long Term Orientation (LTO) can be used to determine appropriate messaging strategies within countries for optimal nation-building outcomes. The author proposes a new metaphor to describe such cultures; Angels (orderly, systemically oriented cultures) and Samaritans (emotionally urgent, relationship-focused cultures)
How do we do good?
It is among the most fundamental of human motives. We wish to do good for others, as well as doing good for ourselves and those close to us.
And it’s axiomatic: part of nation-building is building its capacity to do good. For those inside its borders, and for the world at large.
What happens when a nation, company, or organization tries to do good? Observation suggests that each will choose to do good in a different way.
And the manner of doing good, naturally, depends on the cultural context. Those of us on a mission to promote human progress can succeed better if we acknowledge that fact.
This article contrasts two measures of what we may call doing good across the globe, and seeks to demonstrate what cultural dimensions underpin them. Can cultures to do good in their different ways, and achieve the same long term goals? The article will also use the author’s experience in commercial communications to decode some of the stories and symbols which may encourage positive nation-building outcomes.
To measure cultural context, this article employs the six cultural dimensions pioneered by Geert Hofstede[i].
Two contrasting measures
The Good Country Index
The first measure of doing good is the appropriately named Good Country Index[ii], co-created by international policy advisor Simon Anholt.
The GCI looks at seven broad areas; science and tech, art and culture, international peace and security, world order, planet and climate, health and wellbeing. Each country obtains a rank which corresponds to how well it helps humanity achieve those goals. In the words of its website, GCI “measure[s] what each country on earth contributes to the common good of humanity, and what it takes away, relative to its size.[iii]”
Anholt and his collaborators make a strong case for the power of these measures: countries that work toward these goals in a conscious way earn benefits for their economies, quality of life for their people, and international reputation. It can be argued that increasing a nation’s Good Country Index score is the most reliable paths to nation-building.
Though it uses the word Good in its descriptor, the GCI deliberately states that it makes “[no] moral judgements; [and] simply reports on each country’s external impacts, positive and negative, outside its own borders, using the most reliable data available.[iv]”
In the course of this article, the author has taken the use of the word good at face value; if the reader senses a subtext of moral judgement in this article, it is unintended, and the author takes responsibility for it.
World Giving Index
The second measure of doing “good” is the World Giving Index[v], an initiative of the Charities Aid Foundation[vi] in London. The Index derives from an annual survey of people around the globe. It asks them three things; have they recently donated to a charity, volunteered their time for a cause, or stopped to help a stranger in need? The combined score forms an index, and countries are ranked.
The World Giving Index is a measure of conventional charity. While it makes no explicit claims to moral neutrality, the language of the Charities Aid Foundation suggests that it seeks to refrain from moral judgement in a similar fashion to the Good Country Index.
Angels and Samaritans: A Paradox.
When we compare these two measures of “goodness”one may notice a surprising pattern . The two indices correlate negatively with each other.
The single factor which contributes most to this apparent paradox is the question have you helped a stranger in need? The negative correlation is highly significant at -0.69, and alone accounts for 47% of the variance between the two indices.
Countries which implement orderly, systemic solutions for human progress score highly on the Good Country Index. Countries whose citizens view helping others as a highly personal act tend to score highly on the World Giving Index. Does this imply that the two different impulses to do good cannot coexist in a single nation—or indeed, in each and every one of us?
Clearly, that’s nonsensical. Acts of human kindness shine bright in every culture, and anyone who’s travelled the world can recount them.
But the fact remains. The people of some nations tend to think like angels; they change things, fix things, and put programmes in place for the greatest long-term benefits. Such an approach may feel more noble than acting on impulse.
Others tend to think like the Good Samaritan[vii], for whom doing good is an act of connection between one human being and another. An impersonal act doesn’t feel noble; the duty to help is a form of noblesse oblige which everyone should practice.
It’s a useful exercise to plot countries on the two measures. Countries at the top of the chart score highest on the Good Country Index, and countries to the right of the chart score highest on the World Giving Index. Angels, and Samaritans, respectively.
We can see patterns emerge—patterns which can be explained, at least in part, by Geert Hofstede’s Dimensions of Cultural Difference. [viii]
For those unfamiliar with Hofstede’s dimensions, the two which concern us here are:
- Individualism vs Collectivism (abbreviated as IDV)Individualistic countries have a loosely-knit social fabric. Individuals feel strong and “good” through the content of their character. These cultures are sometimes described as low-contect, after the work of American anthropologist
Edward T. Hall.Collective cultures feature a tightly-knit social fabric. Individuals feel strong and “good” because they know they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
- Long Term vs. Short Term OrientationsLong Term oriented cultures believe in constant incremental improvement. They focus on systems which more deliberately move toward outcomes, and eschew impulsive acts.
Constant, low-level change unsettles Short Term cultures. Marality is a fact of established truth, and individuals tend to behave accordingly. In these cultures, a sense that what one has done should have an immediate effect pervades. Immediate results form better proof of the effectiveness of your actions, more than a theoretical long-term outcome.
Angels and Samaritans tend to fall into two distinct groups.
Angel nations are more:
- Individualist (R=+0.67 GCI/IDV),
These cultures believe that what you do counts. Who you are, and who receives your help, has less apparent importance. We measure success in results.
- Long term oriented (R=+0.49 GCI/IDV)Such cultures don’t demand an immediate emotional reward for what they’ve done to help. They see small, sometimes imperceptible steps in the right direction as where the true value lies.
Samaritan nations are more:
- Collective (R=-0.49 WGI/IDV)Such cultures consider not only the instrumental help we offer those in need, but how that help tightens the social fabric. The context of the help matters; who are the two parties brought together in an act of kindness?
Readers may find it notable that the United States, one of the world’s most Individuaistic nations (IDV 91), ends up as a Samaritan. This may be explained by its score for the dimension of Long-Term Orientation.
- Short term oriented (R=-0.56 Help a Stranger/LTO) and impulsive (R=+0.37 WGI/IvR, R=+0.51 with Volunteering/IvR)A short-term, indulgent culture looks for short-term evidence that their help is really helping. That evidence can be emotional; a thank-you, a smile on the recipient’s face. They are less patient for intangible payoffs that may, or may not, happen in some distant future.
The United States is a short term culture (LTO 26). This appears to account for its Samaritan status
The challenge for those who wish to help build nations, and in turn the community of nations, is that the “Good” countries Anholt describes are actually more effective at the relief of human suffering, and the advancement of human progress. He proves it with data and persuades with eloquent stories. In his book The Good Country Equation[ix], he questions, rightly, the actions of individuals whose acts of charity may be generous and well intentioned, but counter-productive. [x].
This begs the question: how can we achieve Angel outcomes, when cultural instincts lean toward the Samaritan?
Angel outcomes, Samaritan hearts
Again, we should be cautious about imputing a moral judgement in the discussion. Angels and Samaritans both wish to do “good”. And to achieve a good outcome.
The final observation of this article is one of cultural framing. Those who wish to build nations can enlist support for nation building activities through language which respects cultural context.
Examples must be tailored to the application. But the three below demonstrate the principle.
|NATION-BUILDING OUTCOME||ANGEL CULTURES||SAMARITAN CULTURES|
|Reduced Child Labour
|It’s not fair. Child labor robs children of a chance at education, so they can go on to live a better, more fulfilling life. And contribute better to their communities and society.||It’s not kind. Child workers suffer. Pain, disease, unhappiness. There is no time to play or enjoy a childhood. It’s deliberate cruelty.|
|Greater Gender Equality
|Gender discrimination in the workforce robs women of the opportunity to live up to their full potential. It puts them at risk of exploitation. And if they are seen as less than men, it puts them at the risk of sexual violence or coercion.||Gender discrimination in the workforce is simply cruel. Women suffer humiliation and mockery, and their legitimate concerns are ignored. And if they are seen as less than men, it puts them at the risk of sexual violence or coercion.|
|Clean water and sanitation||With your help, we can provide water pipelines and sanitation to more places, more efficiently. Every pipeline reduces disease by 80%||With your help, fewer people will suffer the diseases of poor sanitation. Every pipeline can save 100 people.|
Messaging is a key component to enlist support of populations around the world, to build nations and communities. And sensitivity to those cultural contexts require culturally sensitive programme design and communication of goals. Some cultures will require more personal, urgent language. Others more reserved, perhaps even dispassionate language. Both can advance the cause.
With such understanding, the Angel and the Samaritan can work toward the same goal in different ways. We may simply need to frame the idea of doing good differently.
[i] Hofstede, G., G. J. Hofstede and M. Minkov (2010), Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival (3rd edn), New York: McGraw-Hill.
[iii] https://www.goodcountry.org/index/about-the-index/ Second paragraph
[iv] https://www.goodcountry.org/index/about-the-index/ Third paragraph
[vii] Parable of the Good Samaritan, New Testament, Luke 10:25-37. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2010%3A25-37&version=NIV
[viii] Hofstede, G. et al. op cit. A useful summary may be found at https://hi.hofstede-insights.com/national-culture
[ix] Anholt, Simon, (2020) The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Oakland CA
[x] Anholt, Simon op cit. p.60 Kindle Edition
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marty spent several decades of his career as a global communications strategist for prominent agencies such as BBDO and JWT, on clients as diverse as Mercedes-Benz, J&J, Nestle, Diageo and Ford. After postings in Melbourne, Tokyo, New York and Munich, he set up his own practice as an Associate Partner with Hofstede Insights in 2018, and an independent cultural advisor for global brands in 2019. Marty is a part time Consultant with the Office of the Ombudsman for UN Funds and Programmes (UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS and UN Women)