It’s interesting to have this subject pop into my Inbox today because I had a conversation with my husband the other night that encompasses this Bloganuary topic, quite well.
Robert and I were discussing the crazy events that are happening in our society today. I’m talking about the extreme divisiveness that infiltrates politics, race, religion, education, gender and even parenting. That last one, parenting, is for me a root cause of most of the other challenges we face because children are inherently affected to their core by the way they experience the world before they turn six years old. How an adult perceives herself most probably has been influenced a little or a lot by what she experienced as a toddler.
Sadly, children cannot choose their parents and they cannot escape from a toxic situation without assistance. Some people are going to be dealt one hand, and others will be dealt another. Life is not fair (that’s a life lesson that everyone needs to learn but it’s not the topic of this post!) If you agree with me that the first six years of a person’s life are instrumental in how they will view themselves even as adults, all might seem hopeless. The best we can do to help those who don’t get the perfect first six years (and, I laugh just writing those words because that probably represents most humans in some form or fashion) is to offer a parachute before convictions and attitudes are completely hard-wired. It would be prudent to intervene before the person must negotiate adulthood and all the responsibility that brings – without all the knowledge that may be required to survive and thrive.
In many ways, Robert and I represent an “opposites attract” couple. His brain is that of a mechanical engineer and is dedicated to Ohm’s law (as in there are rules which cannot be broken.) My brain feels most comfortable knowing that anything is possible which is why I prefer biology over physics. Just when you think you are certain that all life is carbon based, someone discovers sulfur-based bacteria at the hot springs. Still, while our first 17 years were very dissimilar and our lives were quite disparate until we met (I in my late 30’s, he is his early 40’s), my husband and I jive when it comes to core values, and most other essential ideologies. If Robert defines his childhood as “neglectful” and I refer to mine as predictable and secure (albeit rocky due to parental substance abuse) how is it that we arrived at such similar beliefs as adults – especially, if the first six years is so instrumental in a person’s development?
My response to that question answers this bloganuary topic: What is a life lesson you feel everyone can benefit from learning?
My husband Robert is a US Marine veteran. He joined directly out of high school. For ten years he was exposed to many different “societies” which included the unique culture of the Marine Corps and a number of foreign countries he experienced during his military career. During my final year of high school, I was an AFS (American Field Service) foreign exchange student to South Africa in 1978. In 1982, as a college student I spent 7 months studying in the cloud forest of Monte Verde, Costa Rica. While the reasons for our travels were quite different, decades before we met Robert and I were fortunate to have observed various renditions of how people live; how they survive and thrive and also suffer. In my lifetime, I’ve accomplished many things, but I continue to claim my year as a foreign exchange student as the most influential year of my life.
When Robert and I hear a news story about some sort of atrocity in our world, we realize that at the heart of the situation is the behavior of a person or a group of people. It’s not “society” that is bad. It’s people behaving badly that causes so much grief. With that said, just the other night when we were chatting about some crazy situation, I said, “Imagine how different things might be if teens – before they went out in the world on their own – were encouraged to live side-by-side (in the homes) with people who were different than they are. Imagine if it were, say for six months or more; sufficient time to truly experience how cold that cold water is when you have to shower in it every day for months, or observe the massive callous on the hand of a woman who hand washes all her children’s clothes on a washboard, or eat rice & bean every day without fail and without the chance to run to a fast-food place for a bit of diversity in flavor, or to live without indoor plumbing, or have to decide which kid in the family gets to go to school because there isn’t enough money for them all to get a school uniform?” Those were my examples, because I had firsthand experience with all those situations, but clearly there are many different ways to experience a different way of life. Then, Robert chimed in that maybe it shouldn’t be a suggestion, but a requirement, that young people spend time living side-by-side with people in another world.
We talked about how valuable it was, for both of us, to experience those differences first hand without a parent or a teacher interpreting what we were seeing or feeling. I added that the most important lesson I learned wasn’t about living with people who didn’t share my own personal religious beliefs or my language, my foods or level of education or my socioeconomic status. Rather, after becoming part of a different family for many months, I learned that love is the same, regardless of whether the facilities included an outhouse down the hill next to the hog shed, or a bidet in an expansive home in the suburbs of a cosmopolitan city. Mothers love their children in every language and in every hut or castle around the globe.
Robert and I agreed that exposure to such cultural diversity alters the way we perceive others. Then we discussed how such a monumental life altering experience does not have to occur in a foreign country. A kid from the suburbs of Chicago could live with a family in Appalachia or child from East Los Angeles could spend the summer with folks in rural Iowa. I suspect those kids could recognize the difference and more importantly the similarities as easily as if they had their Passport stamped.
In conclusion and to answer this Bloganuary topic: A life lesson that I believe everyone can benefit from is partaking in a personal experience that allows a young person to truly recognizing the similarities between peoples who life differently than s/he does. I think that is best learned when young people are encouraged to spend significant and intimate time in the home of people from a different culture.
If you know a child who is expressing an interest in participating in a cultural exchange program, I suggest that you consider dedicating any funds you may have available to assist in his/her dream. I believe your investment may be returned many times over by the good that young person will probably bring back in such a special life lesson.