7.3 billion realities (I’m OK, you’re OK)

I am so grateful to a transgender friend of mine for putting up with my ignorance and curiosity. I asked lots of questions because I didn’t understand. I kept trying to fit his square experience into my round bias and it just wouldn’t go. Luckily I knew how to befriend my confusion and was eventually rewarded with a brilliant flash of insight. Although I wanted to really “get it,” I couldn’t fit his experience in my worldview because we view the world differently. And that was OK!

Perhaps even more enlightening and enlivening was my realization that my bafflement with my friend’s proclivities was exactly the same as my family and friends who don’t understand my preferences.

Suddenly I felt more comfortable with all of us!

This may sound ridiculously simple, like a fool should have gotten it decades earlier. But I didn’t. This post is an attempt to explain why it isn’t as straightforward as it looks.

Today I sat for a bit and watched the rapidly-flipping numbers on the World Population Clock. What I thought about as I observed the mounting total is that every single one of the 7.3 billion humans alive right this minute have an absolutely unverifiable and unduplicatable experience of reality.

I believe a natural human assumption (until proven otherwise) is that we all see life through basically similar lenses, our human-colored glasses. We want this to be the case or wishfully think there is one true way of seeing, an objective standard for reality. We take refuge in rules that may seem to make life safer and more predictable. We assume that some of us are right and others who believe differently are wrong. We sometimes even doubt our own perceptions if they don’t fit consensus reality.

Today I watched the population clock and practiced keeping my mind and heart open with curiosity and reverence for the boggling variety implied. Worldview is the unique sum of everything about a person: gender, ethnicity, geography, biology, sexuality, religion, personality, beliefs, assumptions, intelligence, interests, imagination, talents, preferences, burdens, blessings and every single life experience. No one – not even identical twins – has precisely the same cognitive orientation.

This might be frustrating to consider if you prefer predictability, uniformity, and standardization. This may dismay you if you crave categories, labels and neat generalizations. If black-and-white is your comfort zone, a plaid-and-paisley world may not feel like a good fit for you.  

Here’s what I’ve noticed: the more I acknowledge and respect worldview differences – without trying to win people over to my way of seeing or feeling like I need to change my views to match theirs – the more safe and comfortable I feel being my multi-colored, multi-faceted self.

Cultural competency, as I learned in peer support training, is not learning everything I possibly can about other cultures and deeming myself competent, but almost exactly the opposite. True cultural competency is understanding that there are over 7 billion different worldviews and I don’t know diddly about most of them.

If, however, I stay open and cultivate compassion instead of competency, my own worldview will become increasingly rich, colorful and accommodating. At the same time, I will learn to trust, appreciate and celebrate my own reality, knowing it is one-of-a-kind instead of one-size-fits-all.

Afterthought. As I drifted off to sleep last night, I thought of how this topic correlates to the four life positions in the 1970s self-help bestseller, I’m OK, You’re OK (Thomas A. Harris, M.D.):

  • I’m not OK, you’re OK: ashamed, hopeless, helpless, powerless, insecure, victimized
  • I’m not OK, you’re not OK: rescuer, enabler, expects to fail, gives permission to fail, reinforces victim mentality
  • I’m OK, you’re not OK: rigid, authoritarian, critical, blaming, mobilized by anger, oppressive
  • I’m OK, you’re OK: champion who wants success for all, tolerant of differences, director of own life, not dependent on external approval

The great sense of joy and freedom that came when I realized I could accept and appreciate my friend without understanding his worldview was a perfect example of I’m OK, you’re OK.

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