It’s been an interesting week for me. I started off home in California, then traveled to Austin, Texas. I’ve spent the last few days in Chicago, Illinois. I’ve experienced three very different regions of America in rapid succession. It challenges my brain a little. What I find most interesting is how the character and flavor of a region are reflected in the populace.
Everyone sees the world from the vantage point where they are standing. I grew up in Illinois, but have spent most of my life in California. Both are American states, but there are a lot of differences in perspective between them. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled over much of the U.S.. People have very different ways of reasoning, different ideas about what is and isn’t significant, and different aspirations; all profoundly impacted by the environment in which they live and its heritage.
It’s like the allegory of the blind men describing an elephant, each according to the part of the elephant he is touching. One feels the elephant’s ear, another its tail, and another its foot. The mental picture of “What is an elephant?” varies widely between them. From what I’ve seen touring around this country, even those who are not native to a region adapt to its perspective and take on some characteristics of the region. It’s the nature of conducting life from that corner of reality; the whole “when in Rome” thing. It’s a factor of living.
I have noticed an odd thing though. People with different perspectives, whether those differences are political, religious, cultural, or whatever, develop caricatures of each other. These stereotypes tend to mock and sensationalize differences, at least in part to avoid having to wrestle with the things that are foreign and find common ground. Most of us would rather neutralize our opponents than work with them. Just look at our government. Polarization is the norm. It takes work and true tolerance to actually deal with differences, but few people are willing to do that. The mistake is in thinking that mediation will by definition compromise one’s own values and perspective.
I am reminded of something the Apostle Paul wrote:
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Clearly, Paul believed you can follow Christ and still work with and relate to those who are not his followers without compromising yourself. I’m sure that principle applies to differences of most kinds between people. If only it was easy to do.