Are you blind?
Seattle, Washington. It is an eye-opening experience to work alongside different cultures, different religions, customs, and backgrounds. The constant curiosity of what to expect from people who’ve lived a completely different life than yourself is hard to put your finger on. Equally as exciting as it is daunting since you can never really know what to expect. That’s the exhaustive part of it. However, the most magical part of it, are the moments when despite all imaginable differences a common ground is found between people of completely different worlds. That kind of teamwork is one of a kind and the redeeming quality of all the times when that chemistry does not occur.
But it’s not always a bed of roses, despite the occasional magic. There come times when you question yourself whether or not your prejudices are still just prejudices, once they’ve proven to be truthful countless of times. You slowly learn that certain nationalities are prone to act in a certain way in a certain situation, and you also realize how you yourself are prone to act in a certain way in certain situations. Because it’s not only about others and their characteristics you learn, you also learn about your owns. Working with people very different from yourself brings out different sides of us, and over time you realize what sides, and gradually you can start to select what it is that you want to showcase, or even sometimes, have to showcase in some situations. This is the most educational of all when you actually learn how to veer these differences into a situation beneficial to you. When do you need to be firm? When do you need to remain calm? When do you need to care? When do you not need to care? In total, what battles do you need to take?
It’s rewarding to learn how others think and live, especially as a mean of getting new perspectives on yourself. The differences are countless, but the one thing I’ve learned be the one astonishing thing as good as all people have in common, regardless of all other differentiating aspects, is their pride of their origin. And it doesn’t matter if someone comes from a country with the most profitable passport in the world or from a country you might wonder how they even managed to escape from. In the beginning, I would discreetly roll my eyes when some people brought this up, thinking to myself that the world is just filled with ignorant people. So it took me quite a while to understand that what is normal to me, might not be as normal to everyone else. Because the truth is that what creates our perception of what’s normal and what isn’t, is what we have grown up with and are used to experience. And in a multinational environment, that is different for everyone. A simple fact I used to be completely dumb to.
When I wrote this I was sitting on the floor of my hotel room in Seattle leaned toward the bed enjoying a glass of wine after a long flight. I thought about some of the encounters I’d had throughout the day, and I thought about, what is really normal for me? I thought about the 14 homeless people I’d passed by on my way home from the Farmers Market, a walk of less than 1 kilometer. Anyone who’s familiar with the United States can easily imagine how the majority of these 14 people were not the casual disheveled beggars you might come across outside of European supermarkets. These were mentally ill people, oftentimes fully engaged in vehement conversation with themselves, or by screaming out loud for reasons only they could make sense of. Those were people far beyond the edge of destitution, who are treated like they don’t exist. And I thought this is not normal to me, the acceptance of social decay. I felt thankful since that wasn’t normal to me.
Then I thought about the barista in the coffee shop down the street, a flamboyant Afroamerican man with purple nails as long as my own pinky fingers, whose abundant personality and style no one took any notice of at all. And I thought, as much as it breaks my heart, how that wasn’t really normal for me either. Even I come from one of the most prominent and well-advanced and accepting countries in the world, that kind of individual expression is nowhere near to being a norm. And I thought, that no one like him, would probably earn a job like that back home. And I felt disgraced how that reality, was the one that was normal to me.
Then I thought about my more trivial encounters. I thought about the man standing in front of me in the supermarket a few days earlier, who instead of packing his own groceries waited for the cashier to do it for him. And I thought, how it’s not normal for me to make someone else do, what I am fully capable of doing myself. And I thought, that I am proud that I haven’t been brought up in a society that allows you to think, that why should I do my own heavy lifting if someone else can do it for me?
Yesterday I watched the Swedish Prime Minister host a press conference regarding reconstructing of the government. Having watched a lot of CNN on American television in the last few days it stroke how civilized a Swedish press conference is, with people respecting one another enough to let each other talk without interrupting. And I thought how amazing it is that something so fundamental to me, actually turns out to be something really amazing world wide. So I thought, I’m proud that allowing others to speak until finished, is not something I consider to be extra good behavior, it’s something I consider to be common sense.
I don’t believe that I was ever blind, I just didn’t know what to look out for. That I come from a well-developed country, that wasn’t foreign news to me even before I started this whole adventure, but the real gain of giving yourself an experience like this and to discover realities different from your own is not mostly to see different things but to see things differently. I now see that what I knew to be ordinary before, is actually very often rather extraordinary. Not necessarily always extraordinary good, but that’s also why it’s an understanding that has enriched with something more valuable than money could buy; the depth and the privilege of perspectives.
And I can’t help but think, how poor my life used to be without it.