Understanding the human condition is a goal many aspire to achieve, but few stop to contemplate why humans do what they do. Language is undoubtedly the key to deciphering the enigmatic behaviors of humans, for it highlights what certain people and their cultures find important.
To begin, I’ll cite a word that has no English equivalent; “komorebi.” To express it in English is clunky and void of melody, but it is best put as “the sunlight that filters through leaves in a tree.” A beautiful sight that I’m sure many can recall seeing, and yet there is no English word for it. Perhaps it is because of the high concentration of Japanese Maple trees in Japan, known for their light green, almost transparent leaves, as opposed to America’s high number of pine trees, which lack the ability to produce the beautiful occurrence illustrated in “komorebi.” The insight offered by a word is unparallelled in its scope, for it outlines exactly what occurrences or emotions are important in their culture, and are therefore prolific in their happenings. Take “waldeinsamkeit”; a German word that illustrates the feeling of being alone in the woods. Everyone can relate to such a feeling, but there are not very many people who have contemplated discovering words that aren’t readily presented by their own language. In Germany, people spend on average far more time outside than those in America, with American children spending less time outside than the average prisoner, making it a necessity to have a word that so perfectly illustrates a pastime that they so often partake in. And that is why it is such beautiful insight, because while being outside in the forest is not a product of having a word that demonstrates the action, it is the people that determine what words are important to them, and for many Germans, the wilderness and words that accompany it are what they deem important.
Arguably, English speaking Americans feel little else other than fear, anger, joy, sadness, surprise, and anticipation, with many others that fall in between. But for those of you who have traveled abroad, have you ever felt as if you were misplaced in the destination you were traveling to? Like you weren’t supposed to be there? If you’re French you may feel “depaysement” which translates to feeling out of place in another country. In America specifically however, due to the “melting pot” nature of the country, and therefore our lack of solid nationality, this saying is not important, because compared to somewhere like France, Germany, or Japan, citizens of America harbor weak ties to their nationality, and that is why there is no necessity for a word like “depaysement” as much as it may seem relatable.
The whittling down of what words are used is a natural selection that demonstrates the values that every culture has, and is an integral process in understanding people as a whole. For if you can’t understand what is important to someone, there is no hope in discovering why they do what they do, and therefore you will never understand the human condition and all the insight that comes with it.