I recently read a well-intended but naive suggestion: that people should explain their cultures to others new to it.
If I’ve learned anything moving to the UK, it’s that none of us really knows our cultures. Not from inside. It takes someone breaking our cultural rules for us to even see them. Why is this?
It’s sometimes said that our brains are pattern recognition machines. But it might be more useful to view-them as pattern matching machines. Yes, they recognise patterns, but what’s interesting is what they do next.
Our brains go, “Okay, I get that now,” and let the pattern fade into the background…
Until something breaks it.
Upon which our brains immediately go, ”Ping! What was that?!” In the same way, for each of us, our culture is all the patterns around us that are just part of the background—until someone doesn’t fit in.
And how we respond next can change everything.
When we blame a cultural mismatch on the other person we make them the problem—and miss a chance to learn about our own selves.
But if we see it as just that—as just a difference—things we took for granted come back into focus. And we get a chance to see ourselves through the eyes of another, and they through ours.
In that moment, if we let it, real connections happen, one human to another.