Cultural Values

Every civilisation has a culture, and every culture has its unique values. A civilisation comes into being when a group of people or societies take a series of incremental actions over Time and progress to an advanced cultural and social development stage. Its specific features would invariably include large urban centres, reliable communication mediums, organisational governance patterns, rising economic activity and a division of people into social and economic classes.

As civilisation evolves, cultural values gradually coalesce: a pattern of individual and societal rituals, behaviours, thoughts and a way of living becomes the societal norm.

A civilisation is the bedrock entity we are born into; the culture that arises from it shapes our identity, beliefs, behaviours, thoughts and attitudes. Therefore, civilisational and cultural values are two sides of the same coin. Civilisation’s longevity is highly dependent on the strength of its cultural values. History tells us that a strong culture can prevent a civilisation from failing or falling; a decaying culture hastens its demise.

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is an indispensable tool for understanding the cultural values of different civilisations because, in the Age of Information and Travel, societies are socially, economically and politically grating against each other and becoming interdependent as never before in history. It is vital to understand these values to promote cross-cultural interaction to achieve one’s objectives, whether they might be economic (e.g. business) or social (e.g. professional or personal relationships) or political (e.g. diplomatic).

The following is an overview of significant Values that mark every mainstream society. There are many more in other cultures across the globe.


Time is the preeminent civilisational value, which plays a role in the rituals and behaviours of any one society. It applies to all human groups irrespective of their stage of social development. The reason is simple: Every human is aware of mortality. That thought alone governs what, how and when a person takes action. Indian poet Iqbal’s one-liner, says, “The passing of time alone is reality; the rest is a fairy tale.” There are myriad examples of how this civilisational value can determine behaviour. For instance, if a person has a short-term time orientation, s/he will focus on rewards based on immediate actions and successful outcomes within set deadlines. Alternatively, a person with a long-term orientation might focus on long-term planning and eventual reward.


Emphasis is on individual rights and freedom of action. Society’s interests are not ignored, but the bias is towards a self-centric outlook in considering any issue. In contrast, a collectivist approach stresses community interests above all.


  • Low context: Direct communication, use of words to explicitly express wishes; less reliance on providing context.
  • High context: An indirect approach to communication; avoidance of words and expressions that might suggest confrontation, e.g., supporting a request with examples, using conciliatory tones, etc.
  • Neutral: Matter-of-fact communication; non-emotional and restrained expression of feelings; limited gesticulation.
  • Expressive: Openness in communication; empathy; sharing feelings; active gesticulation.


High Power Projection: Projecting power from a longer/higher distance (towards those considered less than equals); stress on hierarchy and status; decision-making authority firmly in the hands of the ‘seniors’; visible perks and privileges reserved.
Low Power Projection: An egalitarian approach in the working environment, shared decision-making; privileges more evenly distributed.
The distinction between high and low power distance manifests most prominently in Gender Roles. Inevitably, in patriarchal societies, males project power from exalted heights that a female cannot contest.


Passivity: Priority given to the quality of daily life as per their standards; the bias is to take a meandering approach to decision-making and subsequent implementation. Assertivity: Action orientation; focus on strategies and tactics to achieve desired objectives; set deadlines; accountability for failure; rewards for success.

6. UNCERTAINTY (and Risk)

As with Time, attitude towards uncertainty and risks is a civilisation value that applies without exception to all societies.
Low Threshold for Avoiding Uncertainty: Keeping all options open and being flexible and adaptable; emphasis on developing a consensus to please as many stakeholders as possible; accepting the higher cost of inertia in achieving outcomes.
High Threshold: Focus on planning and predictability, accepting the risks that go with it.


Egalitarianism: ‘Universalism’; societal rules and standards apply equally to everyone; no one is above the norms reflected in laws. Entitalism: ‘Particularism’; multiple extraneous factors influence what specific standards should apply to whom and in what fashion. These might include family relationships, professional status, and place in the power structure.


Cooperative: Nurture collaboration and friendship, and modesty.
Competitive: Assertiveness, competitiveness and goals.
These attributes are reflected in behaviour, e.g.:

  • Humour and Joking: Complements indirect, non-confrontational communication style; negates any impressions of hierarchy, a superior or lower status in business or socially.
  • Understatements Vs Overstatements: A modest and restrained approach as distinct from exaggeration of one’s accomplishments;
  • Friendship and Commitment: Emphasis on nurturing loyalties and commitments. The family is at the centre of concentric circles radiating outwards – to friends from childhood, professional friends, and acquaintances. Family is paramount and defended uncompromisingly.
  • Humility and Pride: The accent is on modesty and passivity against self-aggrandisement.


Monochronic: Linear approach; Focus on schedules, punctuality and preciseness.
Polychronic: Lateral approach; accepting multiple obligations simultaneously; interruptions acceptable; a thin line between work and family.

Rakesh Ahuja
21 March 2023

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