Growing up I drew much of my identity from my family. We were highly religious with a set view of the world. We watched certain movies while shunning others, supported certain policies and politicians but not others.
Morality was not complex, but simply a process of route memorization. Christians are opposed to same sex-marriage, check. Abortion is bad, check. Harry Potter is the invention of Satan, check.
Throughout my life I entrenched myself in these family guidelines. My parents were by no means bigots intending to brainwash their children, but rather loving adults who desired to raise their children within a stable family system. However, as well-intentioned as my family was, the boundaries they set for me could not prepare me for the tectonic shifts of emerging adulthood.
Categories, boundaries and taxonomies exist for very practical reasons. They allow us to quickly figure out our place in the world in relation to others; they provide us with rules about who we are, why we are here, who we can trust and who we should not.
Worldviews are a product of a structural system of culture, government, religion, education and family life that work in tandem with a complex self, which consists of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and personality.
This dual relation between societal structures and the self is usually functional within our own “societies,” but what happens when we have to leave the boundaries of our own conceptions of reality?
This happened to me when I left the secure bubble of my family, community and religion. I met people with lifestyles different from my own and beliefs that I had been taught to regard with suspicion. At first my mind exploded. I felt the desire to retreat to the familiar. This flood of new encounters forced me to acknowledge that my beliefs were not the definitive ones.
In our journey to greater knowledge and self-understanding, ignorance is inevitable and sometimes painful. The boundaries of our worldviews provide us with a sense of security and comfort, and I acknowledge that advantage, but when they begin to overrule our ability to connect with others because of fear, I believe we must allow ourselves to “climb the fence,” and meet those with whom we disagree.
Our world has become more integrated with the development of technology and economics. The exchange of ideas is more fluid today than it has ever been before. We will encounter people who are different from us and do not agree with beliefs we have held dear. We need to continually challenge our beliefs through entertaining the ideas of others without disrespecting them.
With enough conversation we are likely to find common ground or common values. Fear of others only breeds suspicion and contempt. Peace comes from understanding.
Humans have a way of dividing themselves up into groups and, for most of our lives, we will stick to those groups — birds of a feather flock together. However, through an ability for complex thought, we can tap into the minds of those different from us. That ability is called empathy. I know these interactions require real risk and intention, but I encourage you to do it. For me, the process has been confusing but also liberating.
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