Cultures are not set in stone or inanimate. They evolve and change over time, as does one’s perception of them. Changing perspective can help you understand how one thing might seem like another. For instance, looking at a pile of earth from far away you can only see a dark, unmoving shape, and when looking at the pile more closely, you might see that it is a termite mount full of life. The same principle applies to a method of cultural understanding called ‘zooming’.
Considering culture, the closer you zoom into it, the more you notice interconnections, networks, and details. For instance, you will recognise that certain communities might have their own culture, e.g. ways of communicating, clothing style, or words/terminology in their everyday language. The more you zoom out, you will see that these communities, though different from one another in many ways, might still share many similarities, such as formal language, ethnicity, concept of time, etc.
In a cross-cultural encounter, it might be beneficial to zoom in or out, just like with a detailed picture, in order to get a better idea of what you are seeing or experiencing. For instance, zooming out can help you ‘see the forest for the trees’. And when you zoom in again, you can be more aware of the interconnections that play a part in the situation. This can help you gain cultural understanding and enhance your readiness for encountering diversity.
The exercises and links below tell you more about zooming in and out.
For understanding how zooming in and out works, follow the following steps one by one:
1. Click on this link.
2. What do you see? Can you tell that it is the Helsinki Cathedral, Helsingin Tuomiokirkko, from a bird’s eye view?
3. Now, click on the picture on the upper left hand side on the site and click trough the pictures. What do you see?
4. The different pictures show different angles and perspectives of the same object.
Translating this into cultural understanding: There is only that much you can see when looking at cultures and individuals of different countries from a distance. It helps to get an orientation and basic knowledge, but by zooming in you can grasp the complexity, see different perspectives and the individual.
When encountering a person from a different background:
1. Zoom out to get perspective and orientation.
Learn about the person’s background in advance, e.g. where they are from, which company have they worked for, what language do they speak, where do they live.
2. Zoom in to learn more about the individual. Add to or modify the information you have based on your encounter and interaction with the person.
3. As you keep encountering that person, make sure to constantly zoom in and out to get the full picture.
4. If there is a challenge, or you don’t understand why the person is acting/behaving in a certain way, zooming out to get orientation and straight away zooming back in might help discover the reasons behind their actions or behaviour.
5. Try zooming in and out of your own culture. For instance, what does Finnish culture look like from the outside, what are the prominent features? How much do you identify with those points? Zoom in to think about your own networks and communities, and everyday situations.