Our experiences vary

Listening to a couple friends talking tonight it reminded me that we often discount the fact that others do not have the same experiences as we do, and our reactions to their behaviors, and words, are based on our experiences and education.

I love the Amazing Race, my husband and I watch it nearly every season and we are very engaged with the teams and how they interact. The very first season we watched, we didn’t catch on at the very beginning, there was a portion of the show where the teams were hunting for scarabs in the sand and nearly every team didn’t know what they were. This was my first ah-ha moment. Here were 9 teams of Americans, 18, people and only about 4 of the people knew what that they were looking for a stone with a carved beetle. Now, at first I was a bit exasperated that 88% of the people participating in this challenge didn’t know this. Then I thought better of this. Not all of these competitors grew up in the same region of the United States as I did, nor did they have the same experiences I did. So, how could I expect that they all would know this?

As a kid I grew up outside of Washington, DC. Every time someone came to visit, off to the museums we went. Air and Space, Natural History, you name a museum in DC, I visited more than once (to the point that I remember thinking as a child “the Smithsonian… again!?!”). Some of the information in these buildings was bound stick.

The same is true with language and colloquialisms. Commonly used terms that were used to classify people in the 1970’s and 1980’s may have been the only terms some have ever heard and when a person uses that language today, it is not only shocking to our ears it is offensive. This is why I choose to identify people by their clothing, hair color, or proximity, and not by nationality or skin color.

I attended Gallaudet University on a Summer program one year to see if I wanted to pursue a translator career. That course taught me how to describe people and it was there I decided I would stop describing people based on classifications. That was in 1990.

It is hard to do at first. We have to teach ourselves a new language. We have to learn to describe people so much better for others to understand who we mean. We must learn to use our words better than we ever have.

What are your ah-ha moments? When did you realize other’s experiences were not like your own?

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