Monday, February 6, 2012

We Should All Be Foreigners, Even in Our Homeland

This will continue to be a recurring theme for me, as is any passion for any person, but mine is more of a principal than a hobby. However, that does not make it any less easy to talk about, but it is much harder to do than playing a video game or reading a novel(although some cases of each of these seem impossible).  

Yesterday I did as 110 million other people did, watched the greatest sporting tradition in the United States, the Super Bowl. While American football is my favorite sport to watch and I am one of those people that can find interest in a game simply because I am a fan of those that display a command of the game, I was not really that interested yesterday. Unfortunately, it felt like a major letdown because there was no ounce of novelty to the game for me. Well, while there was no novelty on the TV, there was plenty in the audience with whom I was watching.

At my friend house, there was an incredible array of people, and Americans were actually the minority. The Americans, my friends, have made friends as they always do with the latest batch of Europeans that come to study at my Alma mater. Last year, it was a group of French and Moroccan people. This year there are French, Norwegian, Austrian, and Spanish. They are all unique, with different accents and humors and interests, but they all share one thing, the desire to learn. Despite the fact that nearly all of them have an admirable handle of their second or even third language, English, and some of them have been here in the past for entire school years, they all treated the experience as a privilege. Now I am not going to preach about taking advantage of our capacity to travel and move from place to place with ease because other countries do not have this, but I want to highlight their attitude and how we can embrace it.

I have made it my personal goal to go into every interaction with the intent to learn something new. While it does not matter what exactly it is that I learn, either some new outlook on life or simply my conversation partner's favorite movie, I want to learn something. This will result in a couple of different things. One, you create an opportunity for a friendship. Genuine interest in what your conversational counterpart says will nearly always be greeted warmly(unless it is nosey and too personal for some people).  We as humans are programmed to talk about who we are and what we know, so when someone asks about these broad topics, we find no shortage of things to share. Remember when this happens to allow yourself to hear the other person talk too. But either way, I think listening is a dying trend, and when someone asks questions based on curiosity rather than polite social obligation, it is refreshing and automatically puts that person in a good position to make friends.

Secondly, the desire to learn something out of every interaction will result in just that: learning something. And while I do value self-esteem and being proud of who you are, I think it is foolish for us not to explore our potential and to grow by absorbing as much as we can. Maybe this is ignorant, and I am promoting an approach to becoming too similar to everyone else. Some of you may think this would result in people being the same and we would lose diversity and culture and the thrill of being different. I don't think that is the case. While I can mostly control what I put on the surface, I cannot deny that I have a unique personality. If our cultures, likes and dislikes, hobbies and so on become the same, I still can't see our personalities changing outside of being open-minded, but what else would you rather be? I think each interaction is an opportunity to grow, and to not take advantage of this would be a waste. I think we are all capable of this, but most don't realize, and I want you to.

So in regards to my title, I think we need to promote a sense of curiosity, a desire to learn. Since I have adopted this attitude, I consider myself to have grown by leaps and bounds as a person, despite my environment remaining mostly the same. Even though we are familiar with our general surroundings, there is always something hidden, waiting to be uncovered. This could be a history, an attitude, an idea, a motivation, a story, anything. All of these are not on the surface but when discovered can tell you much more about what you're looking at than what you initially saw. 

Think about it like you're looking at a painting. For those of you who are not aficionados, you are probably like me when looking at a painting and turn your head in confusion, and walk away...WAIT! The fact you don't understand it is a good thing: if we looked at things we understood all the time, we would never grow. Instead of walking away, try to figure out why this person painted, say, a partially open door. You could ask someone at the exhibit and figure it out, but this will may just explain the painting in a literal way or even a philosophical way. And you can learn from this answer, but you didn't really challenge yourself by just asking for the answer. Instead, start asking yourself questions. Was it a reflection of their mood at the time? Do they view it as a philosophy on life? Is it the door their long-time lover walked out of one early morning, the last time the artist ever saw them? You won't likely figure out exactly why the artist painted the open door, but you might discover why YOU would paint an open door. 

I understand that the example I just gave probably isn't the type of learning you were expecting, but I think before we can understand someone or something else, we have to understand ourselves first. Understanding the other side comes later. 

So, do you get my message? Basically, I just want us all to learn, no matter where we are. Every day is different and everyone we know changes, so treating it all like it's repetitive is a mistake and a blown opportunity. While I admit I am not perfect in this, in fact I am far from it, when I am in my purest form of self I feel this way. So think think about it next time you meet someone new. And if that person starts rubbing you the wrong way, instead of dismissing them, think about why they might be that way. Think about how they have a lifetime of developed personality traits and stories contributing to how they are behaving at that exact moment and conversely how they could have caught you on a bad day. I know it seems flimsy, giving everyone unlimited chances, but what can it hurt? Most likely nothing, unless you are trying to sympathize with a closet-murderer who preys on people who are open-minded. What can you gain from it? Potentially a whole hell of a lot, I can promise you that.

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