Monday, August 6, 2012


Today's blog post is about the myriads of ways people see the world around them, and how one can relate to or understand others' points of view. We often assume that our own point of view is shared by others around us and we carry this thought fallacy from either personal or professional perspectives. We see friends unable to comprehend your dislike of PB&J sandwiches or donuts. (I mean, who doesn't like donuts? You must be a total weirdo!) We see marketers who assume that using the words "awesome" and "fabulous" repeatedly in their copy will make every potential new user get really excited with their product/website/whatever it is they're trying to sell.

But ultimately, we each have our own way of seeing the world, and it often comes in the way of being able to relate to how others are perceiving the world.  In the following paragraphs I'd like to write about two such experiences I've had recently. I'll start off with a wonderful quote: "The truth is, we can only see the world through our own window. And the nature of our window depends on our culture, gender, age, background, experiences, beliefs, judgments, IQ, EQ, and everything else that goes into making us who we are." Unfortunately, I don't know who said this, I found it somewhere, copied it in haste and forgot to write down the author.

Triple A to the rescue!

Story #1: Never seen snow before.

Last Thursday I had my first car breakdown ever.  I was coming back to the city from Oakland, stuck in heavy traffic for several hours, when heavy steam and smoke started coming from under the hood of my car. I put my emergency lights on - right as I was in the middle lane of Howard St surrounded by a bazillion cars going 2mph - opened the hood and let the engine cool off a bit. As my coolant was boiling and dripping on the ground through the overflow tank, I decided it's best to call AAA and get it towed to a repair shop. An hour later I was chilling in the high deck of a AAA tow truck next to the super nice ~50 year old driver, feeling sorry for myself and this last misfortune to be added to the list of recent misfortunes. 

As we were driving across town, my driver and I started sharing life stories. He tells me he lives in Alameda and his shift ends at 12am. As he can't afford to drive into town, he usually takes a night bus back home or Bart, if it still runs that late. He then goes on to tell me how he's born and raised in the Bay Area, how he's never seen snow in his life, and how he's once had the chance to go to New York, but didn't. "Why bother? It's good here, I don't need to see other places", he said. After that, the conversation somehow moves to camping. He tells me how he was forced once by his family to go camping - the only time in his life - and how he hated it. He hates the outdoors, he thinks fishing is the most boring activity, he saw climbers and hikers in Yosemite once and thought what they did was stupid. "Sweat off to climb rocks? Who in their normal mind does that?"

I was listening quietly and smiling. Deep down I was surprised. I never thought there are people out there who can hate with such fervor on the outdoors. I never met anyone with a perspective so opposite from mine: I am an immigrant to this country, have traveled to 26 countries or so, go camping every single weekend and love the outdoors... and he, a fifty year old Bay Area native, who's never been to New York and never seen snow in his life. As I said good-bye to this man, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and for my car breaking down. On the grand scheme, there are far worse things to feel sad about.

Story #2 - Hitler was not that bad of a guy 

In May 2012 I was visiting Romania with my travel buddy, Anne.  (By the way, I still haven't written a blog post about that chapter of our trip.) We experienced bad weather for the most part, with heavy rain every day. On one of these rainy days we had a less than fortunate cab experiences. Thankfully, Anne doesn't speak Romanian and didn't understand our cab driver's insane ranting. It all started from a heavy traffic moment and how other cars refused to let him merge into a turning lane. He started saying how Romanians should be ruled by an extreme right-winged government, the only solutions to bringing order back in this post-communist chaos. He proudly announced that he hails from a family of Iron Guard members, a political party from before WW2, with strong fascist and antisemitic values. He then went on ranting about how Hitler didn't kill as many people in WW2 as Stalin did, how overall he wasn't a bad guy, how Jews are bad people, how old people and children with mental or incurable diseases should be executed, etc.

I started feeling sick to my stomach, and my face turned red.  I was glad Anne couldn't understand any of this, else I would've collapsed with embarrassment.  Imagine the irony: unknowingly having a Jewish passenger in your cab and ranting antisemitic propaganda in a language your passenger can't understand. I wanted to ask him to pull over and let us out, but it was pouring rain and cabs difficult to find. I endured his rant until our destination and felt complete lack of faith in mankind. After all that has happened in this world, after all the suffering and pain, I didn't think people can still hold such beliefs.  I guess I was wrong.

After having these experiences, I think that more people in this world need to travel, go to remote places, place themselves in areas outside of their comfort level, interact with the very same cultures, religions and civilizations that they most fear or are biased about. Open-mindedness is not easy to achieve and should never be taken for granted. It comes with freedom of movement and exposure to other perspectives. It is a value I am learning to appreciate more and more each day.