Jun 14

Here is a few points I learned in trying to understand people and places that are different than what I’m used to. I thought it might be nice to share and could be useful when going to different countries. Please, feel absolutely free to critique or add in any advice.

I believe one of the first things to know is to remember that in essence, human beings are the same. All blood runs red, everyone is born from a woman (so far), and we all have the ability to dream. However to really understand and see the humanity of others will depend on how much one knows him/herself. The reasoning is that it takes the same amount of effort and humility when you truly want to comprehend your reflections. Also, everyone is capable of being impartial, thinking rationally and feeling empathy. It takes all three elements to gain such an understanding of oneself and especially others.

To understand the differences, here are three points I learned. We must take into account the environment, the history and personal choices taken by each individual and society. In this case, people really have to know what they’re talking about, at the very least understand the basics.

Understanding the environment is figuring out how everything from the natural ecology to social values and how they influence the individual or community at large. Depending on how much you want to know, you may have to forgo any generalizations you or the people you’re interested in understanding have about themselves. Since there are exceptions to just about anything. This is for the sake of clarity.

Understanding the history is important, but this too will require us to figure out how everything relates to current conditions. So, while remembering important dates or famous figures are pretty neat, you might have to learn a whole bunch of topics, some that might not have to do with history. I say this because if people don’t have a basic understanding of other topics and how they relate to history, most people end up in this unfortunate situation; they end up asking why aren’t they like us or why aren’t we like them.

For example, to understand the economy of another country, you need to know both the history and basics of economics. After a while, one might realize some discrepancies like it does not make sense why there are a lot of jobs in the financial/banking sector for some places or why it costs a lot for certain services, with the currency adjusted to inflation but not based on any physical value except trust. However, the entire modern economy now runs on that type of mentality so we have to work from that. Same thing with understanding the education system of another country. There’s hardly any evidence to support placing young students in classes based on age or if any of those special honorifics and high test scores translate well for their future endeavors. However, it is convenient to do that and we have to deal with such a system and make gradual improvements from there. Same thing in understanding technology, art, sports, language, etc.

For something less serious, if you just want to understand another individual or small group of people, at the very least know where he/she or they are coming from. What ground they’re standing on, the foundation.

The last pointer I want to make is personal choices. This is probably the most important one, since we can change our environment or any influences from it. Depending on what perspective people take, knowing history could either hold you back from taking risks or inspire people to do more. Or both. Sometimes, the first two doesn’t matter whole lot, especially if we’re talking about individuals. Chinese history is impressive, even from a very critical point of view and framing it within the global perspective. However, what use is it when people have financial problems, illnesses or facing other issues that are more immediate. Same thing with the environment. People who grow up around mountains or beaches doesn’t always mean they must know how to ski or swim. Or for a more extreme example, people who grew up in dysfunctional families or trouble lifestyles can either overcome such challenges to empower themselves and others. Or they could call into a cycle of destruction.

My last point should be the most obvious and hardest to figure out in understanding the differences in other people and places. One can see how much time, personal experiences and knowledge it will take towards understanding people and places different than what you’re used to. Overall, it will depend on how much desire in knowing and effort you want to put in. If you stop learning, wherever you are at that point, is as far as you will go.