I’m often struck by how wildly different people’s experiences (and, as a result, their worldviews) can be, even when they seem to have a lot in common. For instance, most of my friends avoid coffee after 4:00 p.m. because it ramps up their adrenaline and keeps them awake, but I often joke that, at Peace House Community, caffeine and sugar are actually sedatives. As long as we have a good supply of those items, our community members are content, but heaven help us if we run out and face an angry, jittery mob suffering withdrawal symptoms. That’s when you really see people run on adrenaline.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of how difficult it can be to get out of your own world. If you are forced into a new situation or make a deliberate effort to expand your horizons, it can happen, but in general humans seem to be programmed to run off habit. We experience something, and generalize that experience to others. So often, when someone doesn’t meet our expectations based on our worldview, when they don’t follow our script for them, we assume they are either trying to deceive us or they are not smart enough to understand the world.
I’d love to say this is changing as we have more exposure to different people’s experiences. The internet allows us to gather information from around the world. The diversity of restaurants exposes us to new taste and styles of cooking. Television and radio stations cater to any number of cultures and languages. And yet, many of us simply dabble in new experiences and then retreat to what is safe and known. Worse, many people actively look for confirmation of their current worldview from more sources, rather than seeing if they can gain new insights.
As Alan Bleasdale once wrote, many people get into trouble when they read one book, decide it has all the answers they need, and stop there. “Why not read two books?” he asked. “Read Three. Get a rounded view of the world instead of the flat earth version. You may still come to the same conclusions, but is there any danger in knowing more?”
We live in a divided society, where many people seem incapable of moving beyond their own viewpoint. However, there have been much greater divisions in many civilizations than the divisions we face today. I hope that enough of us can expand our worldviews enough and get beyond our own experiences to understand others, even when we don’t agree with them.
by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.