Finding a balance between 'tight' and 'loose' cultures could help our country get things just right.
Finding a balance between 'tight' and 'loose' cultures could help our country get things just right. iStock

Rule breakers have part to play in society

LIKE many readers I have been thinking about politics and how it works around the world. Sometimes it feels like we are a country divided.

I discovered a book that offers food for thought about what is happening. Michele Gelfand is a professor of psychology and author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World. Her ideas can help us understand the culture of politics, workplaces, schools and families.

Are you in a workplace, school or family where people believe 'rules are made to be broken' or 'rules are made to be followed'? Do you like 'uniformity, order and certainty' or do you like more 'openness, creativity and flexibility'?

Tight cultures tend to be more regulated, managed and worried about change. Loose cultures tend to be more open to different ideas and offer more freedoms.

We need cultural norms, routines, guidelines and rules. We need turn-taking and timetables and agreed-upon ways of behaving and interacting. We follow social norms all the time. But we also need looseness, to think in out of the box ways, creative ways. There are challenges for both loose and tight cultures.

When we feel afraid or under threat we might follow group norms tightly and in ways that override our sense of right and wrong, becoming less inclusive, less tolerant or less caring because of these fears.

Yet, the dangers of loose ways of interacting can be seen in our online environments. When we are engaging with others face to face we are likely to be kinder and more co-operative. The internet doesn't seem to abide by these face to face social norms.

So how can we help our families, schools, workplaces and online environments grow in positive ways? Gelfand talks about being adaptable and flexible, finding the balance between tight and loose cultures - a kind of 'goldilocks principle' (not too hot/tight, not too cold/loose, but just the right temperature).

Sometimes we need to 'loosen up' and sometimes we need to 'tighten up'. If we have too many rules, people feel constrained and stifled.

If we have too few rules, then people can lose focus and be overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty. Reflecting on our shared guiding values is a good starting place for community building. Understanding our own natures and preferences is also useful. And adaptability is essential, a mixing of 'structured looseness' and 'flexible tightness'.