We think differently and why

It appears that many of us fall into the trap of thinking or assuming that others think like us, or ought to think the way we do.  Our habitual thought processes are so ingrained in our minds and we are so comfortable with these processes that we mistakenly assume our way is the only way or the best way of thinking.  (We have been guilty of this at times as well.)  Let’s challenge this rather egocentric and limiting assumption.

Do we ever properly and thoroughly consider how other human beings think?  Perhaps, we can benefit by keeping in mind that people do think differently from ourselves.

First, let us recognize the fact that people do think differently and secondly there are many reasons for these various and diverse ways of thinking.  You may ask: Why does this matter?  Or: Who cares?  It matters because many needless and avoidable misunderstandings arise out of poor and ineffective communication.  And, the poor communication is often times a result of failing to adjust (or at least attempting to adjust) the communication to the target audience’s modes of thinking.

Some (not all) of the reasons for the different modes of thinking are differences in the many languages spoken, the breadth and diversity of the personal life experiences of individuals, cultural and religious differences and issues, and the educational level attained by individuals.  A person with a very different perception of the world and of life will likely think differently than you think.

We recall reading a book back in 1982, The Human Connection by Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson, that informed the reader that language structures thought.  Let’s explore this idea.  My wife thinks in Cantonese, her first language.  I think in English.  (My wife is so bilingual that she will rapidly mix and match English and Cantonese words in her conversations with her equally bilingual family members.)  How do others think who know various and diverse and very different languages?  Languages differ in many significant ways as to structure, syntax, idiom, and the relative importance of verbs versus nouns.  (The above cited book also stressed that we can learn about ourselves by considering how others from other cultures see us.  A humbling thought?)

How does the Mandarin speaker think?  What about the speakers of Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, or Tamil in India?  How do the speakers of Swahili, or Zulu, or other Bantu languages think?  Many individuals throughout the world think and speak in Spanish.  What about their thought processes?  As well, Arabic is widely spoken throughout the Middle East and in North Africa.  How does the Arabic speaker think?

We note that it is clear that there is a specific region of the human brain that processes language.  My high school Spanish teacher knew 5 languages (or so he claimed).  His first language was English and he had learned Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and one other that I cannot recall.  The language region of his brain may naturally for him have been very well developed from adolescence.  But, his learning additional languages may also have served to develop and strengthen this part of his brain.  (A personal anecdote may be worth telling here.  Around the time of our marriage, my wife attempted to teach me Cantonese.  She did not have much success as I was not a very good language student.  However, to our mutual surprise, my practice with Cantonese was unexpectedly serving to recall much of my high school Spanish that had been largely forgotten for several years.)

The range and diversity of personal life experiences is an important factor in coloring (and shaping?) an individual’s thinking and ought not be ignored.

How does the Buddhist monk in a monastery in Asia think?  What does he think about?  What about the coal miner?  The woman or man working in the fields of South America, or in the rice paddies of east Asia?  What about the cattle rancher in the western USA?

Briefly, consider these numerous examples from the human family.

How does the bartender in Melbourne think?  What does he or she think about?  How does he or she view the world and life?

The nightclub worker in Bangkok?

The factory worker in Shanghai?

The banker in London?

The baker in Cairo?

The dock worker in Rotterdam?

The Bushman hunter in Namibia?

The civil servant in New Delhi?

The blacksmith in ….?  Are there any left?

The university coed in Prague?  How does she view the world and how does she think?

The shoeshine boy in Sao Paulo, Brasil?

The innkeeper in Madras?

The midwife in Natal province, South Africa?

The Chukchi, Koryak, or Buriat hunter in eastern Siberia?

The nurse in Manila?

The chef in Montreal?

The taxi driver in Caracas?

It can help one to have some knowledge of the world’s cultures so as to gain some insights as to how people in different parts of the world may think.  Cultural geography and cultural anthropology are helpful subjects and ought not be overlooked in a liberal arts curriculum.

Yet, as we mentioned in the cohesive society essay some time back, humans have more in common than they have differences.  If you can keep that in perspective while recognizing and appreciating differences among individuals, you can become a more effective communicator.  As well, you can be a more understanding person.  We can learn and grow and even benefit from our different ways of thinking.

The Compassionate Brain – How Empathy Creates Intelligence, by Gerald Huther, Ph.D.  Trumpeter Books (an imprint of Shambhala Publications) 2006, paperback about 150 pages in length.  We read this a couple of summers ago.  It is a good read that gets one thinking.  By nurturing loving relationships and practicing compassion and empathy, one can build and reinforce the positive and constructive interconnections within one’s brain.  You can rewire your brain and along the way become more intelligent, more aware and a more loving human being.  Hmmmm.  Buddhists teach compassion.  Christians teach love one another.  It seems they were (and are) in possession of practical and worthwhile truths.

Here is a little from the back cover of this book:

Here is the ultimate guide to the brain for everyone who thinks: a user’s manual that shows how your brain works, how it came to be the way it is, and, most important, how to use your precious gray matter to its full capacity.

Gerald Huther takes us on a tour of the brain’s development – from one-celled organisms, to worms, moles, apes, and on to us humans – showing how we truly are what we think: our behaviour directly affects our brain capacity.  Huther’s user’s-manual approach is humorous and engaging, conveying the latest news in brain science with a minimum of technical language, yet his message is profound: the behavior that promotes the fullest development of the brain is that which balances intelligence with such nonintellectual qualities as sincerity, humility, and love.

If you have the time, you may want to read this book.  Your local (big city) library may have a copy.  And, it likely can be purchased online through the several large online booksellers.

Thanks for reading and thinking about these ideas.

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