If there was only one concept to know in order to better understand the complexity of cultural differences, it would certainly be the concept of "Paradigm".

A paradigm represents the way we think about our environment, but behind this concept there is a reality that is often difficult to admit: our own representation of the world is not universal. The way we interpret an event depends on a multitude of elements that are unique to us: our education, our mood, our past experiences, etc ...


The illustration below is provided by Stephen COVEY in the first part of his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Efficient People".

Here is the exercice :

  1. Look carefully at this first picture
  2. Try to describe what this second image represents

You will certainly describe the second image as a young girl with a necklace turning her head to the right.

If another person tells you that he or she sees an old lady, you will certainly question his / her sense of observation

Here is the continuation of the exercise:

  1. Look carefully at a third image this time
  2. Look again at the previous image to see the contours of the old lady

Normally, having been confronted with the image on the right should allow you to see also in the image in the center a representation of an elderly lady whose mouth replaces the collar of the young lady, etc ...

This concept effectively illustrates the power of the influence of our education on the orientation of the perception of an event.


Stephen Covey, toujours dans la première partie de son livre « The 7 habits of highly efficient People » présente le paradigme comme un « Plan ». Il en fait ainsiStephen Covey, still in the first part of his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Efficient People" presents the paradigm as a "Map". He thus makes it an essential element of personal success because the adequacy of the Plan with the city, which symbolizes the reality here, will condition the success or failure of the actions undertaken. This image is very effective in understanding the importance of the concept.

We can add a nuance to extrapolate it to the field of cultural differences: the city, a symbol of reality, is far too complex for a simple human brain, and it would be difficult to establish that certain individuals have in their possession the exact Map of the city. In specific, circumscribed and manageable areas, the "city" is easier to identify, but for complex issues such as human relations for example, we can consider that different plans can lead to identically efficient results.Each culture therefore has its own plan, its way of understanding complex issues that go beyond human understanding and that requires a collective "Map" transmitted from generation to generation.


Our way of thinking is not the same today as in our younger years. The number of experiments has multiplied, the neuronal connections have developed to allow a more complex representation of the phenomena that surround us.

The first trip abroad, moreover within a culture that is really far from ours, very often constitutes a questioning of the universality of our norms and life style. Our initial paradigm has faced new situations and has therefore changed and complexified to take into account new elements in order to arrange them in a coherent way.

But the notion of Paradigm is not circumscribed to individuals and the cultural field. In the scientific field, for example, the way in which physical and cosmological phenomena are represented is evolving over the course of discoveries and the influence of certain theories. Considering the Earth as round and not flat was a famous paradigm shift propelled by Galileo and Copernicus. Closer in time, Einstein's Theory of General Relativity was a colossal change in the interpretation of physical and cosmological phenomenon. Nothing is fixed: two paradigms are currently explored to unify the General Relativity and Quantum Physics with on one side the “strings theory” and on the other hand the “loops theory”.


If we can think that our opinions can be formed through free will and admit that there is no inevitability in the influence of external factors like the social environment for instance, we are forced to recognize that the representation of the outside world depends on the organization of our neuronal connections, which are shaped primarily in our early years and based on events that will become references for the rest of our lives.

We can certainly consciously develop brain patterns to respond to complex situations. We can think and mobilize a vast neural network that gives us the feeling of mastering our decisions. However, the influence of subconscious processes is huge. Unconscious and hard-to-change patterns are at the root of most of our daily actions.

On a cultural level, the main sources of unconscious influence on mass behavior are undeniably the family structures and collective beliefs embodied by religions. These two themes will be developed in specific articles, and it is important to take into account their influences in the constitution of a cultural paradigm.

If the concept of Paradigm is fluid to you, and if it is easy for you to admit that your judgment is influenced by your education, environment and culture, then you have taken a big step towards an effective approach to cultural understanding . If you have ever had the opportunity to make an immersive stay on another continent than yours, no doubt that you are a step ahead.