The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

By contract, a collectivist society is one in which a “enmeshed” (rather than disengaged) culture is dominant. Individuals and units of the society are interconnected in powerful and important ways.  The setting (to use Sommer’s term) is sociopetal. Everything is pulled toward the center and toward integration and merger. Much as Miller and Page (2007) distinguish between systems that are complicated (many parts) and those that are complex (many parts that are interconnected), so we can distinguish between complicated but disengaged social systems with many units that don’t often influence one another, and complex, enmeshed social systems that have many tightly interconnected units.  In the collectivist, enmeshed social system, a code of ethics is prevalent which emphasizes collective responsibility. NPIs and inoculations are likely to fully embraced not only because they are highly recommended or even required, but because they enable each of us to benefit other people (a sign of altruism) and because compliance will ultimately lead to a thwarting of the virus’s invasion.

What then about the society of Israel? Is it collective or individualistic? In many ways, Israel offers a special case of being both at the same time. That may be what makes this country such a dynamic place in which to live. A strong sociopetal force is operating in Israel—among both its Jewish and Arab residents. This pull inward is to be found at all levels of and in all segments of Israeli society. Among the Jewish population it is to be found in the kibbutzim (collective communities) that were established at the very founding of the Jewish state. Collectivism is also to be found in the strong commitment to preserving an independent Jewish-based country in the midst of a Mid-Eastern world that is decidedly not Jewish. A similar level of shared commitment is to be found among the Palestinians living in Israel—these strong commitments tragically collide. Much as I will suggest later regarding Singapore, there is a “social unconscious” operating in Israel that is based on a commitment to survival (on the part of both Jews and Palestinians). This certainly draws people together—and has for many centuries in the history of the Jewish people and in the history of ongoing Mid-East tensions and sporadic warfare.

There is also a strong individualistic orientation in Israel—at least among members of the Jewish community. It is based on the deeply embedded tradition in Jewish theology to question everything, to engage in critical inquiry, and to ensure that all established perspectives and practices have been carefully thought out and layered with multiple contributions made by many Jewish scholars. I don’t find the genesis of the field called Behavioral Economics in Israel to be a coincidence. This newly emerging field is saturated with critical challenges to our established ways of thinking. At the heart of the matter is what one of its principal figurers, Daniel Kahneman, calls slow thinking (an important concept to which I have already referred and will refer several additional times in this essay).

Dr. Silberberg (2020, p. 10) seems to be suggesting that sociopetal pulls are now ascendent in Israel as a result of the virus. She notes that Gil Erlich and Said Masarweh report “changes in [the] relationships [of Israelis] with others, including their family members, and in the dynamics of those relationships”—often “strengthening the relationships between partners and within the nuclear family.” One of Said’s clinical clients “felt best at home with her family.” It might be that the deeply embedded traditions of family in Jewish and Palestinian (Muslim) cultures is aligned with the stay-at-home policies implemented in Israel. There is no such tradition in American culture – though even in the United States, there have often been improvement in the relationships among family members.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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