Spend Time with People You Don’t Understand

imageSantorini, Greece, in 2010 ~ the day after celebrating at the Saint Matrona’s Day festival in the local village of Finikia

In cataloging adventurecraft life, I had no expectation of relaying my evaluation of how life should be lived. Of giving directives. Of being preachy.

Turns out, though, similar messages collide simultaneously from different corners in my life and provide solid wisdom, direction or common sense, and I have to think there’s some validity to that. And since writing is the palette on which I digest this information (hey, gotta love a mixed metaphor…), this venue is left to catch my rambling thoughts today like a velcro dartboard.

There are a few really smart people that I like to follow, read and learn from. I always say that, if I were infinitely wealthy, I’d be constantly pursuing a different degree. Which is heinous, since the world has a whole lot of classroom to offer with no admission fee. (And I am just juvenile enough to giggle when using the word heinous.)

Over the past week, both Malcom Gladwell (What the Dog Saw) and Bob Goff (Love Is…) whispered the same thing in my ear….we need to, and desire to, see the world from a perspective other than our own.

Nothing frustrates me more than someone who reads something of mine or anyone else’s and says, angrily, ‘I don’t buy it.’ Why are they angry? Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head—even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be. – Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

What if we were just with people? And we don’t have to be with them with agenda. Start being with the people that you don’t understand. That are in circumstances that you don’t understand. And not to teach them. Go as a student. – Bob Goff

I’ve always enjoyed being exposed to the mindset and thought processes of other people. This curiosity was the reason I traveled and studied internationally. It was also the reason I used the Socratic method as a middle school teacher. In high school, I wrote a paper about May Sarton and solitude. I had never heard of her and I had to drive to the UW-Madison campus to study her writings.

In college, I marched with the African American student group on MLK Day. I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, to meet Dr. John Perkins and learn about reconciliation in communities with an infrastructure burdened by racial tension. I walked around Europe for a few months. To this day, I try to learn how to say hello, thank you and goodbye in everyone’s language. One summer, I went to work on a ranch in Colorado.

And then a friend asked me what the stigmata was, so I went to grad school to study the Bible and get answers to questions like that. In undergrad and grad school, I had access to brilliant minds such as Dr. Jim Bohn, Dr. Phillip Naylor and Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing, who had insatiable appetites for knowledge and never accepted anything at face value. They all taught me about the word “epistemology,” which was about as exciting as finding a million dollars.

After grad school, I ran for local office with limited knowledge of TIF districts and referedums. Late one night, while campaigning, I sat in the kitchen of a Hmong family for about four hours and listened to a former military leader (via an interpreter) explain the history of the Hmong people and their role in the Vietnam War. I lost the election, but after a few experiences like that, who cares?

Contrary to what one would assume, I didn’t enter into these experiences with an agenda. I was too naive. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, and I probably couldn’t capture why I pursued those opportunities. I was just curious.

So when really smart guys like Malcolm Gladwell and Bob Goff recommend injecting yourself into the unknown, I tend to listen. They are humble guys, passionate about their beliefs without insisting that their philosophy and approaches to life are the only way to go.

Though I am not a big goal-setter, 2015 is going to be the year for investing in the unknown. I don’t want to go into my 40s in a few years with the same worldview or arsenal of experiences that I have now.

How about you? When have you intentionally put yourself in unfamiliar circumstances or spent time with someone quite different from yourself?


6 thoughts on “Spend Time with People You Don’t Understand

  1. thank u again. a quik read which I love! the pleasure of my work is meeting people from all walks of life and trying to have a take away from each one. it is this part of my life that I have , for the most part, kept and keep to myself and relish in the thought that the things I gleen are special, sometimes magical, and mine to keep( treasures ).


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Love this post. Growing up, I spent so much time clarifying my own perspective with regards to faith, in particular. I was taught how ‘right’ this perspective needed to be as a child and then that it had to somehow be pushed onto others in the name of ‘transformation’ and ‘growth.’
    I have grieved that I missed the point and too easily did as I was told, being the pleaser that I was. I missed the treasure of relationship with others for the sake of ‘just being’ and the priceless value of embracing perspectives not my own. I feel so much gratitude to live the rest of my life in a different way, more like what you have articulated. Thanks for expressing this so beautifully.


  3. So true – and hard to do. Normal life forces us so often to interact with agenda. Those times when I’ve been inspired were all ‘off the cuff’ moments – let’s make 2015 full of those! Happy New Year.


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