Much intercultural understanding arises from misinterpretation and misconception. We tend to think our perceptions of something are correct, when often they can be very wrong. What we see usually isn’t the whole picture.
In a cultural situation, simple situations such as how much eye contact we give people when we talk, how close we stand to somebody when we communicate and what kind of gestures we use are all examples of things that can easily lead to misinterpretation. I remember when I moved to Sweden and some of the misperceptions I had because I didn’t understand the whole picture. I remember, for instance, thinking Swedes were unfeeling, purely based on the lask of emotional response and the more reserved body language than I was used to. I was wrong. Just because a person doesn’t gesticulate or emphasize when they speak does not mean they feel any less.
The road to cultural sensitivity is paved with misunderstanding, misinterpretation and false perception. One key is to suspend judgement about another person or a specific situation and instead try to see the larger context. To ask ourselves why might this have happened? What are all the possible interpretations?
Look at it from another angle, who knows what might emerge. Just like in the visual above…so, do you see the horse?