Monday, May 31, 2010

What I Think

Halfway through the trip, sitting in the Beijing bus station, before heading to Mongolia, a Chinese man asked me about my trip. I told him what I was doing.

"Well, what do you think?" He asked.

"What do I think about what?" I asked.

He looked confused. "You're going everywhere. You've been to many places."


"So... what do you think?"

I wasn't prepared for that question. I still only think I understood the gist of it. But it's something I thought about a lot over the next half of the trip.

After getting back to Seattle for the first time, I had lunch with a couple good friends of mine. They're smart people who I've known for a few years now. When I made an offhand joke about how everybody asks me what my favorite place was, one of them immediately nodded and said:

"You see, Joel, what they mean when they ask you that is, 'what did you learn?'"

Whether or not that's always true, it's a good question. Reminded me of Mr. "What do you think."

I've spent a lot of time writing. Not just this blog, but just... stuff. Things I thought were interesting. True stories that were too long for posting. Fiction, and lots of it. And some of the things I read, was told, and observed that made the most sense to me.

Often I get cagey about my opinions or life lessons. Partially it's because I'm only 23, no better than anyone else, why should I try to pretend I know something others don't? Partially it's because I don't want find out I'm wrong, and have someone in the back of the room get up and yell that everything I just said is a lie

But I've been around the world now. And I have learned a few things. Maybe they aren't all correct, but after going halfway to everywhere, they make sense to me. Now that I'm home, I figure I could share some of those things.

We humans are great at finding what we look for. When we travel, we look for something new, out of the ordinary. When we're at home, we have the same opportunities, but don't see them because we're not looking for them. People are fascinated with what is foreign to them. Things that are far away. So much so that sometimes, when they come that distance, they keep everything around them far away. When they come home, it's as if they were never actually close to where they went.

Time may be money, but good information can be worth more than the two combined.

People usually believe anything you tell them, unless they have reason not to. We tend to obey authority figures, or even just those who seem to be authorities/have symbols of authority.

Telling people you care is often better help than just doing their chores or feeding them. Everybody loves to be given a genuine smile. People have a hard time focusing on altruistic things if they are dealing with personal things.

When you're the last of your kind, you get stuck in conservative ways to preserve your culture and status. When you're in a big group of your kind, you try to do things differently, to innovate, to stand out. People all over the world want to be accepted, yet they want to stand out. They refuse labels, but they will vigorously defend those they feel to be like them. People have a nasty disposition to decide people who aren't like them are less than human, or at least inferior to those like them. Usually they will have logical reasons. If you treat people like scoundrels, they'll often start acting like them. If you treat them like responsible adults, they'll often start acting like them. Peace usually isn't bought about by moderates. Lasting peace is when two most extreme enemies come together in agreement.

The fastest way to convince people of your point of view is not by arguing based on shared facts. It's by teaching them different facts. Most disagreements come not because people disagree about what should be done about a problem, but because they are operating on a different set of facts. The easiest way to get people to do something is to offer it to them as a choice. Nobody wants to be acted upon, everybody derives satisfaction from control. Some people think that's where happiness comes from. Let them choose as if it is completely of their free will.

People often observe their actions in order to determine their beliefs, instead of letting their beliefs guide their actions.

People love to say the world is getting smaller every day. Well, I've seen the world, and I'm here to tell you it's still pretty big.

Maybe you don't agree with everything I say. Probably a lot of it is wrong. But I hope it will make you think about yourself, people and the world we live in.

1 comment:

  1. hey I completely agree with everything you say here. and I often find myself making similar observations. And I like how you suggest politely offering your ideas as an alternative rather than arguing for them as the only absolute way of thinking. I especially try to do that in Japan as Logical argument just doesn't happen. So if my opinion differes from someone here, I can't expect them to listen to me if i tear down their argument, but i can offer alternative ideas in a polite way.