Do you see the world around you the way a Spanish person sees it? A Russian? A Korean?
Do you see it the way a Koyukon sees it?
Last week, we talked about optical illusions and how different cultures view three-dimensional objects on paper.
This week, we’ll continue our discussion about how our visual world fits into the framework presented by our culture.
Reality + Interpretation = Visual Framework
Our visual framework is defined by two equal parts:
- Our Interpretation of Reality
And our interpretation of reality is largely defined by our culture…which means that visual frameworks vary as greatly as cultures do.
Our visual framework and what we place importance on, culturally, is often exhibited through language.
One example comes in the simplest form: snow.
How do Westerners view snow?
Many view it in one form: just, you know, that white powdery stuff…snow.
Westerners who are avid skiers might describe different variations of snow.
But beyond a handful of adjectives, Westerners view snow pretty narrowly.
The Koyukon, on the other hand…
This indigenous group from northern Alaska lives along the Yukon and Koyukuk rivers.
Being that they literally live in snow for a good part of the year, their visual framework of the crystals is much more complex. We’re talking sixteen variations-complex.
- deep snow
- blowing snow
- falling snow
- hard drifted snow
- heavy drifting snow
- earliest crusted snow in spring
- snow on the ground
- granular snow beneath the surface
- snow thawed previously and then frozen
- snow caught on tree branches
- thinly crusted snow
- snow cornice on a mountain
- snow drifted over a steep bank, making it steeper
- fluffy or powder snow
- slushy snow on the ground
Now, just imagine it: you’re Koyukon. You look around your winter wonderland, and you see all these distinct variations of frozen water.
Put yourself in their moccasins and view the snowcapped world with this visual framework.
Wouldn’t the differentiation make snow in all its unique forms so much more important to you than the simple view taken by Westerners?
Seeing the world in another’s visual framework helps in understanding and empathizing with another’s culture.
Next week, we’ll talk about how ignoring this framework can result in some pretty major cross-cultural misinterpretations.