Boski, P. (2002). Interactions, research and history embedded in Polish culture: Humanism and uncertainty non-avoidance. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 3, Chapter 7), Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA.

This material is copyrighted by the author(s), who have kindly extended to the Center the right to use the material as described in the Introduction to this collection and the form entitled "Agreement to Extend License to Use Work."



Pawel Boski, Ph.D.
Warsaw School of Social Psychology


This paper is intended as a learning tool for students wishing not only to expand their knowledge to new psychological phenomena, but also to understand cultural interaction in terms of these findings and in a broader historical perspective. Culture and psychology are combined by presenting a detailed analysis of two themes in Polish culture: Humanism and Uncertainty Non-Avoidance. The text is divided into three distinct parts: (i) A detailed account of a foreigner's encounter with Poland, where standards typical for this culture are introduced; (ii) Empirical comparative studies with Humanism as central value dimension and comparative analyses of Uncertainty Avoidance; (iii) Historical analysis tracing the origins of Humanism and Uncertainty Non-Avoidance in Poland.


Recently, Shalom Schwartz, a cross-cultural psychologist well known for his work on the structure of values at the individual (Schwartz, 1992) and cultural (Schwartz, 1994) levels, asked some of his colleagues and collaborators to serve as research participants. The information he presented to us was a top- and bottom- rank-ordering of seven selected countries, each of which corresponded to one of Schwartz's seven culture-level value types (based on his 1994 updated results). The task involved a simple question: which value type accounted for each of the seven clusters of countries? The purpose of this exercise was to see if the value types based on sophisticated analyses of thousands of individuals from about seventy countries would have an intuitive appeal to or connection with the naive observer's cultural map of the world. Well, I and other cross-cultural psychologists are not quite naive observers. Also, most of us are familiar with Schwartz's or Hofstede's (2001) dimensions and how they are ranked in their respective research. Thus, I responded to the task as a "good student", by recalling positions of various countries on the scales provided in Schwartz's 1994 paper. This seemed like an easy task on the surface. In fact, it was quite difficult - even for the so-called experts. The difficulty seems to be related to: (i) the highly abstract level at which value types are conceptualized; (ii) intercorrelations between some of the value types (e.g. embeddedness and hierarchy); and (iii) country-cultures being reduced to numbers on rank-ordering task.

The task made me consider practical implications that the etic, macro-level psychological works of Hofstede or Schwartz may have. Their culture dimensions appear so abstract and semantically far from everyday vocabulary that not many people other than dedicated cross-cultural psychologists and their students may use them when trying to make sense of the world. If the "experts" cannot perform the task very well, then how can the na‹ve and inexperienced person make sense of the world of cultures?

My thesis is, that in order to understand other cultures and to achieve satisfactory outcomes in our intercultural interactions, people need more specific guidance and emic (culture-specific) learning experiences. Most likely, we feel more comfortable at the level of stories, scripts, and incidents that are rich in detail, all of, which appeal to our imagination of "how are things being done out there". This approach is different from Schwartz's strategy just as skills of mastering a language (or several languages) are different from knowledge in comparative linguistics.

The goal of this chapter is to demonstrate the usefulness of a cultural competence learning approach where detailed scripts and scenarios of intercultural interactions are first presented and then explained in terms of empirically-validated constructs (dimensions) which contrast between cultures of the partners involved. The cultures compared will be the ones with which i have had most of my personal and research experience: Polish and North American.

The chapter has three parts. Part I features a story, One Day of Bill Morgan's Life: It happened in Warsaw. This story will give the reader a sample of critical interactions, to be used later as illustrations in explaining key concepts of Polish culture dimensions. In Part II, a psychological analysis of two essential standards -- Humanism and Low Uncertainty Avoidance -- will be offered. Finally, Part III will provide historical roots necessary for an understanding of current Polish mentality.

Part I. One Day of Bill Morgan's Life: It happened in Warsaw

It is Sunday morning. A Delta airliner from Frankfurt has just landed at Warsaw's Okecie Airport. Dr Bill Morgan's visit to Poland is about to begin. He is coming as an academic teacher and business consultant, and was invited by Dr. Piotr Wiereszczynski, a colleague whom he met last year at a conference in Boston (whose name, though, he can neither pronounce nor memorize).

Dr. Morgan is excited aboutthis, his first visit to Poland, and indeed to this part of the world, which geo-politically is called Central-East Europe. He is also somewhat worried. In some brief e-mail exchanges during the last few weeks, he was asked to prepare a couple of lectures on marketing techniques as well as workshop demonstrations on business games. Yet, he did not receive a precise schedule to follow during his visit to Warsaw and therefore does not know how his time will be spent the next four days.

Crossing the custom border in the hall of the aiport, Morgan noticed Piotr Wiereszczynski waving to him. The Polish host opened his arms in a broad embrace. An attractive lady next to Piotr smiled and offered him flowers, which made Bill a bit embarassed. "My wife Danuta - Dr. Morgan" - Wiereszczynski was trying to introduce the two formally. "Bill - just call me Bill" - Morgan corrected. "Oh, that's like Clinton", Danuta cut in, while her husband gave a nod to a young man standing beside him, and the son jumped ready to carry Bill's large suitcase. "Oh no, it is not necessary", he muttered in protest, but young Wiereszczynski already had it in his grasp and was rolling his suitcase outside the exit door.

Wiereszczynski's car was conveniently parked at the curb, next to some taxis, limousines and city buses. Bill did not fail to notice a policeman watching them and making a note about the car. When Piotr Wiereszczynski was about to open the car, the policeman approached, thus stimulating an animated conversation. Mr. Wiereszczynski punctuated his words with wide hand movements, pointing out something to Bill. His wife joined, in an effort to persuade the policeman, who gave the air of yielding to the pressure. Finally, he said in English - "Good Morning" -, saluted and went away.

Mrs. Wiereszczynska took the driver's seat. Piotr Wiereszczynskii sighed with relief and said: "Well, you know, it didn't make sense to leave the car at the airport parking lot. We just stopped for 10 minutes to pick you up. And, in Poland, when you give the policeman a reasonable excuse, like 'I am just waiting for an important foreign visitor', he will not hurt you".

This all looked bizzare to Bill Morgan, and he wondered why the whole family came to the airport on Sunday morning to greet him. "Were they all going to take him to the Catholic church?" , he wondered. Bill was a Methodist by family tradition but he felt personally indifferent about religion. - "So, Mrs. Wiereszczynski, Danuta, are you taking us now to the church?" - he said half-jokingly. Her long and detailed response came as a real surprise. - "Oh no, not now. You see, for us in Poland, Sunday is a working day. I am driving the car, because Piotr, she pointed to her husband, is lecturing today at one of his jobs. He teaches week-end students. And I am a manager at Géant , the French supermarket, where we work on Sundays too; incidentally, it is very close to your hotel. So, Piotr will get out first, then I will stop at Géant, and our son Artur will drive you straight to the hotel. We have decided that he and his girlfriend Monika, who is a University student of English literature, will take you for a tour around Warsaw. Fortunately, the weather is not bad, so you will enjoy the city with professional guides.

Bill Morgan found it difficult to follow Danuta Wiereszczynska's stream of information, and it was not only because her English was just basic. One surprise was following the other. All these complicated family relations, changing one family car from hand to hand; he himself being treated as a precious and fragile object -- yes, object, not a subject, who decides for himself.

The car stopped at a red light. Piotr Wiereszczynski explained that he would just "jump out", because he was already late to his class. - "But the students will understand it, after all, I was at the airport to welcome an international guest. See you in the evening at our home" - and off he went. - "Aren't you afraid of letting your husband leave the car amidst other cars, just on red light stop?", Bill asked Mrs. Wiereszczynska. "Well, I know, she said half-apologetically, but you see, we are so busy all the time. You should realize, that Piotr has three jobs. Fortunately, there is high demand for specialists in business administration and marketing, so we can make it financially, but it is really hard. He is always on the run. Fortunately, we have the mobile phones now, and we can catch each other during the day, otherwise I wouldn't know of his whereabouts".

It was becoming too much for Bill, though he still wanted to make some sense of all these kaleidoscopic events. "How come your husband could have three jobs? Who authorizes it? Isn't it necessary to be at work at certain hours?" - Mrs. Wiereszczynska smiled in return, she tried to satisfy Bill's curiosity the best she could. - "It is diffcult to understand for the foreigners. But you know, we must find some ways to catch up with you in the West. We must work even more than Americans do, otherwise the gap between Poland and the West would stay forever." - Artur, wake up, why don't you say anything? Explain it more to Dr. Morgan!" - she demanded her son to get involved, not missing to criticize his lack of enthusiasm .

"Well, Dr. Morgan, - Artur entered the conversation - can you imagine sir, that here in Warsaw alone, about 70 new private institutions of higher learning have been opened during the last 10 years?! Most of them rent the space for teaching from high schools. So my father, for instance, is teaching now at one of the private schools of business, while I am a student at another. Both located in state-owned high school buildings. But it all is somehow working: there is a high demand for education among students who can afford to pay for it, professors can have a better life, and state schools get funds for necessary upgrading. So, finally, it is good for everybody".

Bill listened patiently to Wiereszczynskis lecturing on the realities of Polish life. Now they stopped by a huge shopping plaza, with G‚ant dominating the scene. It is good to work here - Danuta declared - these supermarkets symbolize a new Poland too. We have six G‚ants in the capital, numerous Leclercks, Auchants, Carrefourres, etc., just like in the West! Besides, I have all the best products available in Poland at our home table; you will see it this evening at the dinner table. She smiled again, gave a kiss to her son, and left the car.

Artur Wiereszczynski took the driver's seat. In few minutes they were at Holiday Inn, where Bill checked in. Artur told him that he and his girlfriend would join him in about two hours for a tour in Lazienki (Royal Baths) and Wilanów, the royal residence called le petit Versaille.

Towards late afternoon, the whole party started regrouping. Coming after their sightseeing tour, Bill was engaged in lively conversation with Monika, Artur's girlfriend. They spoke English and were already planning Monika's summer job in Los Angeles. The car, driven by Artur, stopped by Géant again, where Mrs. Wiereszczynska, contacted earlier by mobile phone, waited fully loaded with bags of French delicacies. There were varieties of cheese and wine, at good promotion price, along with a 50% cut for employees. Mrs. Wiereszczynska was telling her stories, half in English half in Polish. After giving Monika a motherly kiss, she was instructing her what and how should be prepared for the dinner. She also called home and spoke to another lady, asking her about the state of preparations there. "You see, she explained to Bill, we are now going home, where my mother is in charge of the dinner. She has been cooking from late morning hours and we are now carrying some necessary ingredients. Monika will help us, she is like our daughter. We need just to pick up Piotr, who's at another School where he should be finishing his courses now." - And she made a phone call to her husband. - "Piotruniu - she used a childish dimunitive for Peter, are you done with your students? - You better should, that's enough for today, we are coming to pick you up, be ready in five minutes".

With the traffic jam, it took them half an hour to reach another workplace of Piotr's. The car stopped at some obscure building. Many young people were leaving in small groups. Artur went inside to drag his father out of work. A few minutes later they came down. Mr. Wiereszczynski was surrounded by a group of animated students, apparently not wanting to let him go. They approached the car and continued conversing for several more minutes. It irritated Danuta who opened the door and - with a commanding manner - took his husband's briefcase. Finally, he entered the car with an air of total exhaustion. The five passangers hardly squeezed in an old Ford Escort. Peter asked Bill casually how his day was, but did not listen to the American. He was complaining about his own hard day.

Half an hour later, they arrived at a new apartment building, where the Wiereszczynski family owned a new flat. The grandmother, a dignified lady in her 70s, opened the door. In the living room, where they entered, the table was set for dinner. Showing the guest around, they were quite proud of their nearly 800 square foot apartment, comparing it to the old one in a shabby socialist "ant house building", where they lived until two years ago .

Three ladies of three generations took charge of kitchen business. Artur was instructed by his father to serve the drinks, and also reminded not to drink, since later he would be driving Dr. Morgan back to the hotel.

"So, it is a nice apartment", Bill complimented. "Quite comfortable for you and your wife, I suppose." "Well, not quite for us two. Artur, our son, he is a student, and he lives with us too. My mother-in-law has a one- room studio apartment of her own, but in fact she spends most of the time here. Since we are so busy, she is the household manager, and often stays here overnight. Finally, Monika should also count as being a member to this household. I see her almost daily. But- to your health and good visit".With that, Mr. Wiereszczynski offered a drink.

Around 8:00 pm, as they were about to approach the table for dinner, the telephone rang. Mr. Wiereszczynski excused himself and went to the other room. It was a business call concerning Morgan's presentation in the morning. Apparently, it needed to be rescheduled by two hours, at 12:00, and not at 10:00 as tentatively planned before. The reason for the switch was another unexpected and urgent meeting, to be held in the conference hall. Wiereszczynski argued for a long time over the telephone until his wife ordered him to finish and join the company at the table.

The food was plentiful and good. Cold salads and meats came first, along with herring and pickles. Vodka was served too, and there were toasts "to your health" and to "friendship". This was followed by red beetroot soup with croissants. Next was the grandmother's poultry specialty: duck stuffed with fruits and many vegetables. French Bordeau red wine, which Danuta proudly brought from Géant, was served. Bill was always served first and was often asked to eat more, his faint excuses "thank you, I am fine" were disregarded. Toward the end of the dinner a couple of friends came in. They joined the company for desert.

Mrs. Wiereszczynska explained that they were a closely-knit family and preferred to dine at home with friends, rather than going out to restaurants. "Home food and climate are much better than restaurants, it just does not compare", she declared self-assured. Cheesecake and walnut cake were served along with coffee and liqueurs. It was an excellent and heavy meal. Soon an animated discussion started on Poland's NATO military involvement in War Against Terrorism. Though Bill was first kindly asked for his opinions, he was soon left alone, as the Poles started discussing among themselves. He could not follow the arguments but definitely they were quite emotional, and all people wanted to talk at the same time, not listening but raising their voices to be heard better.

About 10:00 pm. Bill mentioned the work facing him the next day, with his morning presentation as the main event. He suggested it was time to go back to the hotel. It was only then that he learned from Wiereszczynski about an "unexpected rescheduling": "Oh, please do not worry Bill" - he was reassured by his host - "the telephone call that I had just before we started dinner was about a slight change in our plans. Your presentation will have to be rescheduled from tomorrow to Tuesday, due to some emergent meeting which I and my collegues need to attend. So we may stay longer tonight, and you will get more time for rest in the morning."

This being said, the party continued in a jovial way. With a jet lag of nine hours, Bill felt very tired when he was driven to his hotel at midnight. On his first long day in Poland, most of the events ran the way he did not expect. What he knew for sure was that he is visiting quite a different country.

Part II. Psychological Analysis of Core Cultural Standards

The above story contains a number of scripts and interpersonal events which may appear as much unexpected to a foreign visitor as they are typical for Poles. Two themes are dominant and crucial for understanding this intercultural encounter:

1. Humanism, or close, cordial, and informal personal relations;

2. Low uncertainty avoidance or spontaneous/improvised organization of individual and group activities;

Below are presented a list of episodes drawn from One Day of Bill Morgan's Life, which fit to these two cultural domains.


Low Uncertainty Avoidance  

§         Airport welcome by the whole family; embracing, flowers; helping with the suitcase.

§         Airport police officer persuaded  by personal appeal.

§         Tour-guides as (extended) family members.

§         Personalized interactions with a newly acquainted person (summer job in the U.S.).

§         Leading roles of women in organizing all actors’ activities, their motherly-commanding manners.

§         Coordinated actions of all family members to handle the visitor and their personal engagements.

§         Family home dinner as way of entertaining a business visitor (rather than in a restaurant).

§         Family home of three generations, open for friends, son’s girfriend included.

q       Not knowing the schedule of the visit well ahead.

q       Car parked illegally at the airport to save money, time and for convenience.

q       Police easy to persuade to bend the traffic/parking regulations. 

q       Passenger leaving the car at red light, for being late at work.

q       Working regularly on week-ends (Sundays) in an otherwise traditional Catholic country 

q       Having several full time jobs at ill-defined locations and hours (private institutions renting space from state schools). 

q       No sharp boundaries between work and personal life: late night business calls.

q       Last minute changes in scheduled programs, because of unexpected interferences.

Humanism, or Close, Cordial Personal Relations

Collectivism-Individualism has been the leading theme in cross-cultural psychology over two last decades. While this vast literature involving this topic is objective in its empirical findings and theoretical generalizations, it does not escape axiological implications (Triandis, 1990, 1995; Kagitcibasi, 1997). It is easy to find those who criticize and others who eulogize one end or the other of this popular continuum. But the authors who give individualism contrastingly different evaluations do not speak about the same issues. For those who discuss individualism in positive ways, this mode of life is associated with freedom, self-direction, active agency, happiness and progress in many societal domains. The critics of this perspective instead point to selfish (egotist) ways of life, to the damage done to the web of social connections, as well as depletion of social responsibility, all of which characterize advances of individualism.

It is possible, then, to differentiate between two axes which remain confounded in the concept of individualism and contribute to endless and often fruitless debates:

(i) agency and self-direction versus subjugation;
(ii) self interest versus social interest.

By deconfounding the sense of agency: I or not-l, from the type of interest (value orientation): Me or Others, we have conceptual space of four separate mentality types. This theoretical framework results in taxonomy displayed in Table 1.

Table 1. Taxonomy of Value Orientations: Humanism and its Alternatives.











Thus, for instance, Humanism shares some elements consistent with Collectivism and some with Individualism. Consistent with the former it is the social embeddedness of value-orientation, while with the latter it is self-directedness in pursuing these goals.

Based on a considerable amount of empirical evidence (Boski, 1999, 2002a), the following conclusions concerning Humanism and related dimensions, can be drawn.

1. A scale measuring Humanism - Materialism (HUMAT), with good psychometric qualities was found with the use of Emic Cultures Values and Scripts Questionnaire (ECVSQ). The scale contrasts between personal bonds and concerns vs. financial, business matters.

Table 2. Scale of Humanism - Materialism.

-Materialism  Scale [Humat]

1. Offering selfless sympathy and helpful hand, generosity

2. Always trying to tease out some profit or advantage

3. Realty:  Buying  and selling homes for interest and upward mobility

4. Caring for life long friendships

5. Becoming a successful business person as life ideal

6. Cunning and evading laws

7. Forgiveness and  mercy as principles of Christian morality

8. Having business-like relations with other people

9. Happy to see the bank account grow

10. The well-being of children, happiness within family

11. Standing up to defend people against injustice

12. Feeling most comfortable in a modern world, free from the ties   of old  traditions

13. Holding memories for those who passed away  and heroes of the past

14. Public affairs of interest only if personal well-being at risk

15. Gentleman type of courtesy towards women

16. Fantasy, romanticism

2. The core of Humanism. The psychological meaning of humanism consists of (i) Establishing personally deep, intimate, and informal relations with other people, the prototype of which is a family friend. Such family friends are called "aunts " and "uncles" , "Godparents", or "brothers", none of which imply blood relationships; Humanism does not entail, however, individual conformity to group demands. (ii) Being at the center of a humanist syndrome, familism is focused on children, who live with the parents well in their adulthood, are continuously indulged and supported by them; it is also dominated by women who command the highest respect; (iii) Understanding others' weaknesses and failures; mercy , leniency , forgiveness, and "heart" for those who do not meet standards make the other, "feminist", aspects of humanism. Imperfection is an important aspect of being human on the actor's side, and so is its recognition on the receiving side (partner, friend, teacher, authority, etc.) and (iv) Readiness for prosocial activity, particularly for those who suffer as victims of social injustice and cannot claim their rights by legal means. Such actions are often motivated by high ideals of fighting for the just cause, irrespective of probability of winning. The "Solidarity" of the 1980s was a prototypical example of humanist values set in political motion.

3. Cultural comparisons and differences. With a number of studies over the last fifteen years, the HUMAT scale showed large differences at the culture-level of measurement between Poland and North America (see Figure1). Poles (residing in Warsaw), Polish immigrants (in Canada and in the U.S.), and Polish- Canadians or Polish-Americans of first and second generations rated Polish culture on the humanist side, while American culture was on the materialist side. Americans (residents of Florida) also rated their culture as materialist, and so did and foreign students (at the University of North Florida). The differences were smaller at the personal level (not reported here).

In a recent study based on a nationwide sample (Boski, 2001, 2002a), four value dimensions emerged: Humanism, Sarmatism (i.e. anarchy and social hedonism), Work-materialism, and Liberalism. The first two were considered as characteristic of Polish culture, though Sarmatism was given a negative evaluation. Work-materialism and Liberalism were judged as West-European. Using these four factorial measures (each comprising of 10 items), two generations of Poles and Polish immigrants to America were asked to portray both cultures. Results can be seen in Figure 2. Humanism (HUM) and Sarmatism (SARM) remain typical of Polish culture as much as Work-Materialism (WK-MAT) and Liberalism (LIB) conform to an image of American culture. The contrasts are highly significant for all four dimensions; and none of them emerges as dominant in common Polish and American way of life.

4. Humanism in various sectors of Polish society. Research data have clearly showed that humanism differentiates distinctly and predictably between socio-economic groups in Polish society. Among samples of five socio-economic -- laborers in private and social sectors; teachers; bank employees; and city councillors (regional politicians) -- highest scores on humanism are earned by teachers and local community politicians; lowest among people employed in banks. Findings reported in Figure 3 are drawn from the first and last of five waves of measurements (over a period of three years); they can be seen as successful construct validation: high levels of humanism characterize people whose work imply taking care of others' personal growth and social problems; materialism is high among those who deal with money.

5. Humanism and other value dimensions. Research findings have also demonstrated empirical separatedness of humanism from measures of collectivism-individualism (see Figure 4). City councillors, with their highest scores in humanism , are also lowest in collectivism. Materialism-oriented bank employees, while also low in collectivism, score highest in individualism These results add to construct validity of humanism: social groups which are contrastingly different on this dimension, score similarly on collectivism and are apart again in individualism. The theoretically-derived taxonomy of meta-dimensions: self-direction (agency) and social orientation (self-transcendence) receive sound support this way.

6. Humanism as a positive predictor of preferences for political democracy. Political democracy bacame one of the landmarks of systemic transformation in Poland and other former communist countries in the 1990s. Researchers spent much effort trying to establish psychological antecedents supportive or less so, for the new emerging political order. Value dimensions presented in Figure 3 and Figure 4 served - in the same project - as predictors of a political variable, called Understanding and Preference for Democracy.

As Figure 5 shows below, humanism turns out to be a positive predictor of political democracy. Unlike collectivism and alienation which are much higher among working class people than among the educated ones (teachers,city councillors and bank employees), humanism is also a variable, which is unrelated to level of education and whose impact can not be explained by formally acquired knowledge.

7. Stability of humanism during the period of political transformation. During the 1990s, humanism shows stability in self and in positive prototype (i.e. an ideal Pole) measures, while materialism has largely increased in negative Polish prototypes. The latter reflects resentment initially felt against the communists and later, against business-class people, whose mentality appears incompatible with humanist values dominant among general population, and whose wealth has so often been accumulated in corrupt or otherwise illegal ways. (See Figure 6).

Thus, the two aspects of post-communist transformation towards meeting the standards of western society: political democracy and market economy are related to humanism in a reversed way. Humanism creates cultural conditions favorable for political democracy (already engrained in "Solidarity" opposition) but it remains largely incompatible with capitalism, at least with the way it has been operating in Poland during the last decade.

8. Appreciation of own and other cultures. In a study conducted among Poles, residents of Warsaw, appreciation for own cultural heritage and for foreign cultures landmarks in the city was investigated (Boski, 2002b). Clusters of participants high and low in appreciation of these cultural markers were obtained. Clusters based on Polish culture appreciation (POL+ vs. pol-) were separate and independent from those split over evaluation of foreign presence in the capital (MULTI vs. MONO). Clusters based on both criteria were then compared on a number of psychological variables.

As Figure 7 shows, individuals forming clusters of high appreciation for multiculturalism (MULTI), as well as Polish cultural heritage (POL+) have lower scores in materialism than individuals prefering monocultural enviroment (MONO) or lack of interest in own culture (pol-). The reverse order was found for asubscale of humanism.

The correlates of humanism as discussed above give a broader picture than One Day of Bill Morgan's Life: It happened in Warsaw; they give the story a theoretical perspective, within which it can be understood much better.

Low Uncertainty Avoidance in Human Actions and Predictability of Future Outcomes

Culture is sometimes defined in terms of constraints imposed on a wider range of human psychophysical potential (Poortinga, 1992). But cultures also differ in how tight or loose these constraints are, and to what extent are they binding to individuals (Triandis, 1994, 1995). In this regard, credit should go especially to Hofstede (1980/2001) for the conceptualization and measurement of Uncertainty Avoidance (UA), one of the "big five" cultural dimensions involved in work-related values. At work organizations an index of UA was based on (i) employees respect for company rules, (ii) long-term commitment to the current employer and (iii) stress felt at work. We may say in general that the concept has to do with keeping the present events cognitively structured, and the making the future states highly predictable.

Cultures differ considerably with respect to how much effort and attention is devoted to reduce uncertainty by imposing laws, rules, and regulations. Although Germany ranks in the middle of Hofstede's scale, the author gives himself many examples about German inclination for orderliness; expressions like Befehl ist Befehl ("a command is a command") or Ordnung muß sein ("there must be order") are well known internationally.

As our story One Day of Bill Morgan's Life: It Happened in Warsaw has demonstrated, Poland offers a very different picture in this domain. Life is regarded as too variable, multifaceted, and uncontrolable to be molded by rigourous rules and restrictions. Instead of a well designed and smoothly running machine - for a German culture metaphor - Polish culture thrives on a spontaneous, free-floating stream of life.2
The two cultural realities are schematically illustrated on the following charts.

At the goal level, a broad spectrum of end-results will be considered as satisfying (wide, goal line in Figure 8), which means that the target is far from a precise, well-calibrated measure. The path of achievement is also planned in a sketchy way, so that many "unforeseen" events will happen at any time, demanding emergency measures, interventions and extra efforts to be exerted before coming to the end. The final outcome may fall at an even larger spectrum than the liberally planned goal setting (please consider the length of the line).

Figure 9 presents a very different picture. It is partly based on Thomas's (2002) analysis of German cultural standards. It also fits nicely to Bhagat and Moustafa's (2002) picture of American culture with monochronic and rigorously scheduled activities. The flow chart starts with a precise assessment of the current situation as the springboard for planning activity. Ideas, wishes, and aspirations are confronted with well-defined resources and constraints. The first transform them into realistic goals, the latter cause rebound rejections. [No goal planning goes beyond the blocks of Resources and Constraints, by "disobeying" them.] Consequently, the range of goal-setting is narrowed down to well defined and realistic states (please compare the lengths of "yellow" lines in Figure 8 and Figure 9).

During the phase of carrying a project out, strong built-in controls ascertain that the outcomes will not go astray and they bear close resemblance to original goal setting (again short vertical green line in Figure 9, as compared to a much longer interval in Figure 8).

With the help of these two skectches, the reader should be able to understand better the predicament that Mr. Morgan found himself in during the first day of his visit in Poland. Plans and actions of his hosts and his own fate were in a constant flux; negotiated and renegotiated, never knowing when a change may occur again. Also, concepts of "work time", "job-employment", "social roles", "traffic rules", etc. appeared fuzzy for him.

It is hard to say which of the two aspects of Polish culture has top priority: Low uncertainty avoidance - improvised organization, or the Humanism of close personal relations. It would be best to call them mutually supporting parts within a system. Also beyond doubt is that humanism helps immensely in achieving success to any substantial degree. Humanism is the first step when people are to start their actions, or the last resort to which they appeal to avoid failure. It has worked so many times and is practiced over and over again by millions of Poles.

One may remark that the border between humanism and a form of Polish "guanxi" or corruption is thin: by appealing to other's heart and mercy and by yielding to these pleas, people on both sides agree to contravene "heartless" rules and regulations. This double edge between the virtues of Humanism and transgressions of corruption are recognized in Polish mentality. The negative aspect of interpersonal relations, marked by lawlessness, irresponsibility and anarchy of unrestricted freedom has been identified as a separate dimension of Sarmatism.

I will now present a broader, historical perspective on the current aspects of Polish mentality or cultural standards (for more details, please consult Boski, 1994).

Part III. Antecedents to Psychology of Today: Polish Culture as Shaped by its History

1. Catholicism.

There is little doubt among social scientists that the type of extant dominant religion and religiosity exert profound impact on various domains of secular life (Weber, 1904/1958). Here I shall elaborate on two such effects: one is identity and socio-economic values (mentality) is the other.

Catholicism and Polish identity. The country has been tag-named the Bulwark of Christianity, which referred to Poland's position of a Western frontier state against the Eastern Islamic world of Turkey and Tartars but also against Orthodox Russia. More specifically, the Polish=Catholic equation has become a strong identity symbol since the 17th century counter-reformation. In that context, Catholicism also gradually became a contrasting feature against the predominantly Lutheran Prussia and Sweden.

A Bulwark was, however, more of a defensive barricade than a crusader's fort; it served more as a shelter of resistance against various invaders and occupants than as a force to wage religious wars (of which the country was essentially spared). During the periods of foreign powers' dominance, and the country's partition, the Catholic church played a crucial role in national identity maintenance; indeed it was extremely important until the fall of communism.

An important feature of Polish Catholicism over centuries has been the cult of Virgin Mary the Queen of Poland. She has been the Goddess, a figure of a sensitive, compassionate, protective Mother; holding the country as a whole and each person, as her Child. Hence, femininity is an important psychological dimension of Polish Catholicism.

Catholicism and the non-economic mind. The best example of religion r economic activity causation is Weber's theory linking the rise and growth of capitalism with protestant ethics, especially with its strict Calvinist version (Die Protestantische Ethik und das Geist des Kapitalismus, 1904/1958). The theory was later elaborated by McClelland (1961) who found that the need for Achievement (nAch) was the missing psychological link between protestant culture and economic growth. According to the author of The Achieving Society, socialization in protestant culture/religion (compared to Catholic) facilitates higher level of achievement strivings in boys and prepares them psychologically towards undertaking entrepreneurial challenges.

Catholic doctrine was strongly opposed to the spirit of business on ethical grounds. Profit -making was considered incompatible with Christianity, or simply sinful. Human greed of early capitalism and profit-making business activities of modern market economy have been alien to the teachings of Roman Catholicism including the most recent encycliques by John-Paul II (the Polish Pope).

In Poland, these norms took even stronger measures by pushing business activities beyond the national-religious boundaries: what was unacceptable (or even illegal) for a Polish noble Catholic was good for a Jew. The rules of capitalist economy did not access mentality of our forefathers. The concepts of profit, loans, interest, banking were foreign to them and kept in disrespect; activities of this type may have brought moral-religious sanctions, even banishment. An honorable citizen could not give an interest-bearing loan to another nobleman, nor could he get directly involved in any business venture.

If Protestant culture was psychologically translated into need achievement and individualism, then what could be the psychological consequences of Catholicism? Earlier, I hypothesized about femininity (Mother-orientation) in Polish culture. Further, considering the official personalist doctrine of the church and the frequency of vocabulary referring to humanism and its derivatives: human face, human dignity, human rights (and the opposites: inhuman), we can think of Humanism as the best term for core mentality dimension.

2. Farming and Village Life vs. Business Economy and City Life

Until well into the second half of 19th century, Polish society comprised mainly of two social classes: 1) nobility or "free citizens" and 2) serf-peasants. Both classes were paradoxically similar in some important characteristics of their socio-economic existence: they were settlers in the rural world of agriculture and Catholic parishes. Activities typical of town dwellers, such as trading/manufacturing, were foreign to them. For centuries, trading of grain and other agricultural products were predominantly in Jewish hands while crafts and manufacturing were dominated by people of German origin. Town-dwellers and Jews were deprived of political rights and looked down upon as second class people.

The principal elements of this traditional social structure lasted until WWII: Poland remained a predominantly agricultural country of small peasant farms and large nobility estates. Jewish and German minorities held to their enclaves of private industrial and commercial enterprises.

An important newcomer to the social structure was intelligentsia, whose roots lay in nobility and whose mentality reflected the same distance to pragmatism of earthly undertakings.

Shortly, Polish society of 20th century was lacking sizeable cities with indigenous middle class population to carry on economic growth. World War II eliminated the most economically active groups: Jews were the victims of the Holocaust, while Germans were forced to leave the country as the vanquished. With social classes associated with capitalist mode of production having disappeared, Poland was ideally suited to enter the era of communist command economy, which lasted for another half a century.

3. National-Political Issues: Between Internal Anarchy and External Aggression

For the last 300 years Poland has been the stage of numerous foreign aggressions, internal uprisings, heroic defeats, and short days of triumph. Historians debate what portion of blame should be attributed to internal vs. external causes.

Among internal sources was weakness of state (king's) powers against vast privileges vested on nobility. The privileged 10% of nobility basked in their Golden Freedoms or Nobles' Democracy. Until the end of 18th century, kings were elected and efficiently controlled against any attempts towards despotism or dynasty formation. Democracy operated according to a procedural rule called liberum veto. It meant that all bills had to be passed unanimously; which was an impossible task. Increasingly, liberum veto was abused by corrupt politicians and gradually the country had neither executive nor legislative effective power.

Individual Golden Freedoms were abused in an anarchistic way so that the country fell prey to stronger neighbors. Gradual partitioning took place in the late 18th century. After a brief period of twenty years of independence, it happened again in 1939.

Loss of independence was each time a blow to reawakening patriotic feelings and solidarity in resistance. Poles had a large list of national uprisings; most of them were defeated and the toll of ultimate sacrifices was high. They were eulogized in national literature, poetry, fine arts and in music. Romanticism has been the prototypic artistic expression in Poland. It was fed by a heroic struggle against the forces of oppression and it instigated next generations to fight the just cause against the odds.

Anarchy during the periods of independence and heroism during foreign dominance had both similar psychological underpinnings: the bottom line was low level of reality testing and of pragmatic costs-benefits assessment. Just as anarchy led to extreme egocentrism (My rights above anybody else's) and low uncertainty avoidance, so did heroism mean a selfless sacrifice. If the former reflected a hedonistic principle, so the latter was expression of a moral principle. Anarchy was justified by the supreme value of Freedom; Gloria victis was the moral tribute paid to those who fell fighting for a just cause. In both cases, act rather than outcome was that what really mattered.


The middle part of the chapter, studded with empirical findings on Humanism, is intended primarily for those motivated by pure academic interest. But if you want to acquire some competence on what to expect from interactions with Poles on your visit to that country, then One Day in Bill Morgan's Life will be useful. Still, historical analysis may help in your pursuit for deeper understanding. The three parts are integrated however, with an effort to combine culture and psychology in a way of enhancing mutual understanding. Research in psychology should be conducted in culturally- situated and culturally-meaningful contexts. Culture should be interpreted in terms of the psychological states and processes of its actors - its citizens.


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About the Author

Pawel Boski is Professor of Psychology at the Polish Academy of Sciences and at Warsaw School of Social Psychology. In the latter institution, he is Director of Psychology for Inter-Cultural Relations, which offers a five year M.A. program in culture and psychology with about 700 students enrolled. Pawel Boski worked for seven years in Nigeria and for the same amount of time in North America. He organized XV IACCP Congress in Pultusk (Poland) and edited a volume of Proceedings New Directions in Cross-Cultural Psychology, which was published recently (2002). His research interests include value dimensions, acculturation, and training of inter-cultural competence. Most of his studies emerged from the context of Polish culture, with particular emphasis on humanism-materialism and femininity-masculinity.

Questions for Discussion

1. Why is American culture low on Humanism dimension (or high on Materialism)? Are there any elements in American culture that would correspond to Polish Humanism?
2. Imagine you were Bill Morgan on his visit to Poland. What would surprise you most in the situations of which the story is composed? - What would you like and what would you not? What would make you curious to learn more about this culture? Prepare your likes, dislikes and points of curiosity in a tabulated way for group discussion.
3. Having read One Day in Bill Morgan's Life, try to write an essay on a Polish visitor to America. What would be the main points of differences between the two stories? - Try to imagine how would a Polish person feel in some of typically American situations.
4. Discuss the consequences of Polish subjective culture for economic and political developments in this country, particularly when it joins the European Union.
5. Discuss the taxonomy of value-orientattions (table 2 in the text). In what sense is Humanism different from Collectivism - Individualism, and what makes it similar to them?
6. Use the HUMAT scale (table 3) for self-report measures in the classroom. Before you analyze some descriptive statistics and comparisons (e.g. Male - Femae), try to guess who in the class have got the highest and the lowest scores.
7. Try to find out some students of Polish extraction on the campus, or in the neighborhood. Ask them to fill out the HUMAT scale and attempt an interview based on the items.
8. "Uncertainty non-Avoidance means chaotic life but it is also a source for creative improvisation" - discuss these ucltural dilemmas.

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