Careful, Your Limited Perspective is Showing

In the first ten years of my life, I lived on three different continents (Europe, North America, and Asia).  I also grew up in a family for whom travel distance was not an issue, so, when in the United States, we did a fair bit of driving and flying around the eastern half of the country.  My “normal” was that different types of people lived in different ways and in different environments.  So, when I hear people making jokes that don’t acknowledge this fact, I find myself bewildered.  And then I remember: we’re human.  We think from our own perspective, forgetting that our own places, our own experiences, are not the only ones out there.

Case in point: Lately, there has been an unusual amount of snow in southern cities (e.g., Atlanta, GA or Raleigh, NC).  I hear people from further north say things like, “It’s just a little snow–what’s the big deal?”  Yes, if you, your neighbors, your town, are used to snow and are prepared for snow, it’s not a big deal.  But if you live in an area that is not prepared for it–whether mentally or in terms of infrastructure–it is a big deal.

I currently live in Pennsylvania.  Here, we make fun of Georgia struggling with what we think is a small amount of snow.  New York makes fun of Pennsylvania for having trouble with snow that’s less than a foot.  The Canadians probably make fun of us all.  And if the Georgians visit New England in the middle of a heat wave, they’ll probably make fun of New Englanders’ inability to deal with heat and humidity.

I visited Los Angeles this past summer, and was surprised (and yes, somewhat amused) to learn that residents of the California city make a fuss when it rains.  It hardly ever rains there, and when it does, they don’t even want to drive in it.  That sounds strange to most of the rest of the country–it’s rain, for goodness sake!  But then, someone explained to me that because it hardly rains there, the oil and grime just sits on the streets.  So, when it does rain, the gunk rises to the surface of the roads, and makes them really, really slippery.  Oh.  Didn’t think of that.

Most every place I’ve ever visited has the same saying: “If you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes–it will change!”  Relatively speaking, it’s true in most places.  Guess what?  Weather changes.  That’s why we have people that get paid to predict it.  Even then, as advanced as we think we are in our age of technology, the weather can’t be predicted exactly.  Weather happens, and sometimes it’s weather we’re not used to.

This issue is so much more important than the weather.  We have to realize that our knowledge and our experiences are so limited and so different from others’ knowledge and experiences.  Even with the amount of traveling I did with my family growing up, there are still plenty of boxes I find myself in–or putting others in–just based on what is familiar from my experience.  There’s nothing essentially wrong with wanting comfort in familiarity, but recognize that your familiar is not someone’s else familiar.  And that’s ok.  Actually, it’s really good that our familiars are different, especially when we let those differences challenge us.
When someone’s stumbling as they encounter something new or different, we can be surprised that it is strange to them.  We can be amazed at how different backgrounds can be.  I hope we can be compassionate in their distress.  But, please, let’s not criticize or make fun.  The tables turn so easily and soon enough, we’ll be the ones struggling to adjust to someone else’s familiar, and it won’t seem so funny anymore.

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