We are often blind to our prejudices, especially the ones we have long held, the ones inherent in our actual location or community. Everyone else agrees, so why should we think any different? Often, we can get stuck in them without even realizing it.
Prejudices are defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” So if our belief in something or someone is not based on our actual experience than we might be looking squarely at a prejudice.
I have rarely faced down one of my prejudices that was a favorable one – either to me or to its target.
I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, USA. I have never lived anywhere else. My frame of reference for life in the US is based on that location alone: northeast US, smack in the middle of the “Rte. 95 corridor” between NYC and DC.
That comfort level shifted when my job took me into 16 years of travel, both US-based and globally. As with everything that takes you out of your comfort zone, it changed me. For the better.
This quote by Mark Twain certainly sums up what I experienced. Don’t take it as an insult if you’ve never traveled. Consider it an observation made in the 1800’s when horse and buggy were the fastest form of transportation.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. ~ M. Twain
From my travels, I confirmed Twain’s observation.
If you never look around, you never get a new view. Your view becomes myopic – you can only see what’s right in front of your face.
Yet, there is so much more to this country, to this world, than what meets the immediate eye!
I learned in southern Texas that authentic Mexican food was not served at Taco Bell. I learned that a good fast food burger could be bought at an In-And-Out place, not just under the golden arches.
Our country offers vast expanses of hills and mountains and aspen- and fir-filled forests that just force you to slow your pace so you can gawk in awe.
I became aware that American English could be voiced in a myriad of accents, including my Philly accent which I was unaware I had until a friend from Minnesota pointed it out to me (after I pointed out hers!).
But I still live in Pennsylvania. In many ways I am, as Twain put it, ‘vegetating in one corner.’
Yet the world moves in and out of my view without my even trying.
I have it at my fingertips via the 600 or so TV channels I can access. There are, at last count, 14 different travel shows, 6 travel-the-world-to-taste-weird-food shows, and movies that take me to exotic places to live the story through that culture and those people.
I have it on my street with the families who have moved here from other countries. They cook their native dishes a few nights a week; they decorate with a style that reflects their country of origin; and, they speak their native language over dinner each night.
In my last position on the job, I had it with the majority of co-workers who heralded from other parts of the US, or even from other countries. Diversity abounded.
For me, the challenge wasn’t that I didn’t have exposure to a bigger world than my ‘corner’ afforded. The challenge was whether or not I was willing to explore what was right in front of me.
Was I willing to try to understand the work pace and mannerisms and foods of someone from Kansas or California? Could I be curious about, not disinterested or even scared of, the diversity of colleagues from Asia, or from South America?
Are you? Are you willing to seek out the different and divergent from your own immediate view?
I chose to embrace it most of the time. Even when it felt uncomfortable like when I had to accept that people with southern accents were not dumber than northerners. (I shudder at that one – a myopic prejudice, for sure.)
Building this habit of willingness in the face of discomfort, my perspective continues to broaden. Some wrong-headed prejudices remain, but I am much more open to differences than I could have ever expected.
So, don’t think for a second that the only way to learn about this world is to travel. Just go out your front door, or down the hallway, or turn on your TV and watch something other than Real Housewives or NCIS!
I’ll write another time about how fatal my global travel has been to my prejudices!!