This past Friday, I went to San Francisco to turn in my application for my China visa. On the drive home, I listened to a podcast where Rob Scott talked about how people view the world through invisible lenses. The analogy he made is that these lenses are like the pieces of glass in a pair of spectacles, or in a microscope, a telescope, a pair of binoculars, a camera. Each lens allows the viewer a different perspective to view the world. Perhaps one that is clearer, or one where we can focus on faraway things, or teeny tiny things.
More importantly, these lenses are usually invisible to us. Thus, most people are oblivious to the lenses through which they see the world, and assume that everybody else sees the world the same way that they do, which makes it extremely jarring when others do not. It got me to thinking about all the lenses that we grew up filtering the world through. What assumptions do we make about the world around us? What sorts of beliefs and ideas did we grow up thinking was self evident? What cultural biases do we even have? At the end of the day, we are the products of our environment, though we do not necessarily see it.
During one of the first science classes I ever took in middle school after I moved from hot, tropical Singapore to the cold and rainy Pacific Northwest, we had to fill out a worksheet on temperature, that was supposed to teach us conversions from Fahrenheit to Celsius. One of the questions was: “what is normal room temperature?” That seemed like such an easy question to me. It was clearly 28°C (82°F).
My science teacher was surprised. “That’s a little warm, don’t you think?” he said, and marked it down a few notches to 24°C (75°F), a temperature that seemed (at the time) absurdly cold to me.
That was the first of many small events that had me questioning everything that I’d ever known in my short life. As I grew older and travelled more, as I ventured out across the globe, I started noticing all these invisible lenses that I saw the world through, and I started accepting that everybody sees the world differently.
When I lived in China in my mid-twenties, all the Chinese people I knew kept trying to find a husband for me, even though I wasn’t really interested in marriage, a concept they found quite inconceivable. When I lived in Europe, I was absolutely gobsmacked that everything except for certain restaurants and gas stations closed by 6pm, and that nothing was open on weekends. European friends explained to me patiently that family time was important, and it was quite obvious that having everything close down meant that everybody had the chance to spend quality time with their loved ones.
I suppose it all just boils down to different points of view, different experiences, and different assumptions. And this diversity of viewpoints is what makes travel so exciting and new to me each and every time.
What lenses do you see the world through? What underlying assumptions do you have?