Friday, April 29, 2011

An element of surprise

People can surprise you. I've found myself wrapped up in notions of what I thought a person would be like, only to find myself pleasantly disproven.

I've been traveling a little bit recently, to make trips to visit grad school open houses and another trip for work. One of my favorite experiences while traveling is meeting unusual people or overhearing unusual conversations.

Recently, I was in North Carolina, and a colleague and I were talking to a bus driver, a real southern good ol' boy type who hated the big city. At one point, he saw a Muslim woman crossing the road, and he remarked, "She's wearing one of them things, what do you call 'em, them veils they wear on their heads? I heard those things got banned somewhere!" I began to suspect that this conversation was not going to go anywhere good or to say the least, not anywhere politically correct. But then, you know what he said?

"Well, I think that's ridiculous! They been wearing them their whole lives! They should wear whatever they want!"

This just made my day - I'd honestly been expecting this guy to say something offensive, just because I'd assumed he might be "socially conservative" (or whatever the current euphemism is), but I was completely proven wrong.

This idea of confronting assumptions and first impressions has been on my mind a fair amount lately. I've dealt with more new situations and new people lately, it seems, with traveling and some other things going on in my life. It can be difficult to be open-minded; the idea of coming to a conclusion about someone or something is seductive. What I mean is that I find myself wanting to make sense of things; deciding that something is or isn't a certain way makes it easy to file it away in my brain and focus on the next thing. But, I'm thinking there's no sense in assuming that I've got it all figured out, otherwise I'm never going to learn anything new.

I'm trying now to push myself out of my comfort zone of things and people I know, and into situations I don't know. This fall, I'm moving out of DC and starting a graduate program in North Carolina. That's the big "comfort zone" change in my life lately, but there have been other smaller ones, like joining a recreational sports team.

So, anyone else have any good stories about people that have surprised you lately? And what are your thoughts on getting out of your comfort zone and keeping an open mind?


Em! said...

I had something like that happen the last time I was in DC. After one of the interviews I had, I felt exhausted and not in the mood to tolerate much of anything. I had just stepped onto the escalator at one of the metro stations, going down, and I heard a guy trying to get my attention. He was with another man, and they were heading up the escalator, though they were still a distance away from me. I ignored the guy at first because I thought it was going to be one of those "HEY GIRL" moments (you know what I'm talking about). And I judged him on the way he was dressed. It was casual wear, but dingy colors and somewhat baggy looking.

Well, this guy was persistent in getting my attention, so when we met at the middle of the escalators, I finally looked his way. He was older, possibly 40s, and all he said was, "Smile." :)

I instantly felt better and smiled at him. I asked him how he was doing, etc., and we went about our days. He obviously saw that I wasn't in the cheeriest of moods and did what he could to make my day better. But I had automatically assumed that he would try and hit on me or bother me in some way. Shows how wrong my assumptions can be.

And then there's the blog post I made about the guy who chatted with me in the super market but didn't ask for my number, even though I expected him to. :P

I wrote down a quote about comfort zones from a documentary I just watched recently, The Human Experience.

"When you go somewhere out of your own comfort zone, out of your own realm, and you enter someone else's, that's learning." - Jeffrey Azize

If you haven't seen it, the first part of the movie shows Jeffrey Azize voluntarily becoming homeless in NYC (in winter!), and it's pretty cool the discoveries he makes about those who have no money and nowhere to live. Everything isn't always as it seems. :)

I love your story though! And you blogged, yay! It's been a while since you last posted!

Nanda said...

So will it soon be Lauralicious in NC? Congratulations again on your acceptance, and it's exciting to hear that you've decided where you want to go.

Phil and I are going to Chapel Hill for Memorial Day weekend. Any suggestions on where we should go?