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The Times
  • Michelle Teheux: Step outside your comfort zone

  • Oh, you think you know what rich/poor/black/white/Hispanic/blue collar/white collar people are like. But you don’t. Chances are overwhelming good that you only know your own people.

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  • Oh, you think you know what rich/poor/black/white/Hispanic/blue collar/white collar people are like. But you don’t. Chances are overwhelming good that you only know your own people.
    People tend to self-segregate without even knowing they’re doing it. If you are a middle-class person, living in a middle-class community, shopping in stores aimed at the middle class, going to a church populated largely by the middle class, and working with people who, other than the janitors and the big bosses, are all middle class, you very likely don’t know jack about the lives of others.
    If you are a wealthy person living in a gated community, shopping at upscale stores only those at upper income levels can afford, going to a church located in a rich area and largely populated by your fellow rich friends, you likely have no concept of what the lives of the very poor or the middle class are like.
    The same is true of any other group you could name.
    Oh, there are exceptions. People who grew up poor but who now manage to make a very good living might have more insight. Interracial couples probably have more insight on racial issues than the rest of us.
    My job as a journalist offers the privilege of getting to know people from just about every stratum of society. Factory workers. Community leaders. Elected officials. Working poor. The non-working poor. As such, I’m able to at least understand where people are coming from.
    I think what we need is some kind of exchange program that will mix us up. It would work a bit like the foreign exchange programs. But instead of really getting to know a kid from Germany and swapping knowledge of each other’s cultures, we’d find ways to bring together, say, a resident of public housing who can only find fast-food jobs with a guy who runs a large business.
    We could match a single mother of several children who has several cobbled-together low-paying jobs with a wealthy mother who is able to stay home with her children without making undue financial sacrifices. It’s not just that the poor need to learn the ways of the better-off, either. The wealthy could learn a lot from the poor. If you don’t believe me, I take that as proof that you just don’t know many people outside your own socioeconomic group.
    It’s astonishing how many things we “just know” about “those people” that are completely false, a product of our own unrecognized biases.
    It explains why some people are absolutely floored that anybody could vote for Candidate A, who is clearly an idiot, while others are just as sure that anybody who voted for the evil Candidate B has been completely bamboozled by B’s obviously subversive political party.
    Page 2 of 2 - Try getting to know some people who are as unlike you as possible. You will often learn that you actually have more in common than you could ever have believed. Most people are trying to get along in a tough world, trying to make good lives for themselves and their families, and hoping for the best for our country and the world. They might disagree with you as to what the right path to get there is … but if you get to know them enough to be able to see the path as it looks from their front door, you might at least agree that the correct path might not be as clear as you thought it was when you were standing on your own front steps.
    It’s even more important that we do this now, in a time when media fragmentation means that we’re all influenced by very different messages. More than ever before, we get our news from widely different sources and we consume very different entertainment. We as a society have less and less in common … or so we think. But we all still live in the same world.
    We should remember that.
    Contact Michelle Teheux at mteheux@pekintimes.com. 
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