Lately I’ve been thinking about the ways our own, necessarily limited experiences affect the ways we interpret reality.
I read a lot of crap online, where crap = articles in major online publications and the comments posted about them. As you might expect, most of the crap I read is of the left-wing variety, but I make an effort to sometimes venture forth into right-wing territory and into the somewhat neutral territory of publications that attract comments from both sides.
On one of those neutral sites recently I was following a discussion about the government safety net vs. private charity, and a gentleman expressed the not-uncommon view that people should not be forced, via taxes, to help others, but that they should do so voluntarily via charity. He went on to say that when it came to the actual work of helping people, the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-ladle-out-the-soup work, that work was uniformly done by conservative people, with nary a leftie in sight. Liberals, he opined, only wanted to help the poor by spending other people’s money.
I was rather taken aback by this comment. I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector pretty much forever and in my experience, the staff, leadership, and volunteers of charitable organizations are liberals. All of them.
Of course, we are both correct. It’s a function of where you live and where you choose to spend your time. And it certainly affects your view of the people who aren’t there.
Late last night, when I should’ve been sleeping, I amused myself by arguing with another man about gay people. He explained that whatever the gay lobby might have you think, homosexuals live a dark and miserable existence. Most of them get AIDS and they suffer from extremely high levels of intimate partner violence. There is no way, he told me, they could lead happy, productive lives.
This morning, in a coffee shop in downtown Seattle, I returned to the discussion and reread his comments. Again, I found myself perplexed. Behind the bar, the very gay barista danced to an old disco tune while making coffee drinks. Since he had a job, he seemed perfectly productive, and his smiling dance moves certainly looked happy. At the table next to me, a young gay man talked business on his cellphone. I logged into my work email and read several messages from the gay Executive Director. And the only conclusion I can come to is, the man making those comments doesn’t know any gay people. Or more likely he does know some gay people but he doesn’t know they’re gay.
All of which makes me wonder what I’m not understanding due to my lack of exposure to other ways of thinking or being. Would my whole worldview be shaken if I moved to Kansas?