Experiences vs. Perception

Have you ever heard the phrase, corrupt politician? How about shady used car salesman? Or maybe you’ve been told not to trust Carnie (Circus) Folk because they smell like cabbage and have small hands.

Or perhaps you have started a new job and your co-workers have told you to watch out for some person or the other because they drink too much/are promiscuous/violent/whatever.

Did that cloud your judgement in any way when you actually met the person?

In all of the above examples (silly and otherwise) you learned something second-hand and probably acted, at the very least, more cautiously when faced with the real thing. You were naturally predisposed to think a certain way. I know, I’ve been guilty of that many times and I’ve sometimes actually avoided situations entirely because of it.

But is that the right course of action?

I know, prior to going to Hong Kong and Japan for the World Scout Jamboree I didn’t really feel any desire to go to either place. I had heard they were both crowded. Air quality in Hong Kong was reported to be bad. I wouldn’t know the language (in either place) so communications would be difficult/impossible. The cultures were extremely different from my own. Why in heaven’s name would I want to subject myself to that?

But, I went anyway and rather than letting any preconceptions rule me, I decided I would look for the familiar and build upon that. And at the very basis of the familiar, I went expecting that the people of my host countries would want and need the same things I do.

It turns out that by traveling in that manner not only did I feel more comfortable, but I was better able to recognize where differences existed and adjust to them. I was able to learn how people really are the same wherever you go (no, I am not trying to quote a song).

For example, the descriptions of Japan and Hong Kong as crowded. Population densities are certainly much higher and homes are smaller than where I live, but I never felt more crowded than I do at home. In the middle of Tokyo, for example, I walked with my host family many evenings and would not see another person for minutes on end. That’s a far cry from the shoulder-to-shoulder shoving match I was expecting.

Homes are definitely smaller, but families live much the same there that my family does here.

If I had gone expecting crowded, I probably would have found crowded. Just like, if I met every politician expecting him or her to be corrupt, I would probably convince myself of that corruption at every meeting.

There are so many examples of people “learning” what’s right and acting without further thought in this world. Religious wars. Racial tensions. These things are largely taught. That teaching colours our perceptions and, if we don’t bother to think it through, ends up becoming our truth.

The better path is to hear what people tell you but keep an open mind. Be a scientist and prove out what you are learning. If you are told a place isn’t worth visiting (barring actual danger like civil war), learn why it isn’t worth visiting and maybe go anyway.

I now have a very different view on Hong Kong and Japan. The people I met were all very kind and helpful. There were many wondrous things to see and interesting things to do. I made friends there. Friends I want to go back to visit one day. My horizons have been expanded and they won’t ever be diminished.


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