Meeting the other

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent blog post by American author and business guru Seth Godin:

It might be someone in a different state, religious, atheist, straight, gay, in a developing country, a lawyer, a politician, struggling to pay the bills, ill, recovered, in recovery, a dedicated athlete, a computer programmer, angry at the system, an insider, an inventor, from a very different political stance, a pilot, unemployed, a millionaire, an inventor, a tax cheat, a gun owner, a rabble rowser oran adult without a driver’s license.

Can you see them? Understand them? Ask them about what it’s like to be them? Would you miss them if they were gone?

I grew up in Toronto, a city known for being diverse multi-culturally. I knew few people beyond my own circle but my life since then has exposed me to many more sorts of people.

Moving to the U.S. and living in three other countries — Mexico, France and England — has put me in situations and around others with some very different behaviors and attitudes, toward government’s role in our lives, toward women, toward the importance of work or education or family.

At 25, I spent eight months living in Paris and traveling across Europe on a journalism fellowship with 28 others from 19 countries, from Togo to New Zealand to Ireland to Brazil. It was a fascinating year, fraught with cultural misunderstanding. The four Canadians, one Irishwoman, two Britons, one New Zealander and four Americans all had quite different notions of proper spoken and written English!

The man from Togo — who worked for his government, (i.e. not even a journalist in our North American definition), was deeply offended that we did not always shake his hand hello or spend 10 minutes chatting with him. In his culture, this was very rude. In ours, haste = efficiency. Lessons learned, for both of us.

When I moved to Montreal in the mid-1980s, I found that being Anglophone was enough to make some people hate me. That was weird. Instructive, certainly. At press conferences, everything was done in French and only at the very end were Anglo journo’s allowed to ask our questions in English, (which everyone else spoke.)

Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-countries (Photo credit:

I read Seth’s list and thought, yes, I do know people in 21 of his categories — but not a millionaire, inventor or politician.

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...
Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I enjoy most about being a journalist is how it forces you into meeting people, on almost every assignment, who are very different from you. For me, that’s included Queen Elizabeth, a female admiral, convicted felons, two Prime Ministers, scientists, computer programmers, Olympic athletes, an Inuit village, an Italian construction worker, a French truck driver and a Dutch politician.

If you’re not insatiably curious about the world, and open to hearing other points of view, journalism is not for you! You can’t just cover your ears and go lalalalalalalalalalalala.

If you’re not working in journalism, travel helps — especially international — if you actually talk to people beyond the hotel staff and cab drivers and make a point of meeting people there beyond your conference or classrooms.

Volunteer work helps.

Jose and I negotiate multiple differences in our marriage: he’s American and I’m Canadian; he grew up the son of a Baptist minister and my family did not attend church; he is Hispanic and I’m a WASP.

It makes for some interesting moments — but we’re also alike, both workaholic career journalists who love to eat and travel and read and listen to music and laugh. So for all our differences, (which I initially thought made us unworkable as a couple), we share essential values.

As technology and growing income inequality help us tribally sub-divide into ever-narrower niches — only consuming media that echoes our political point of view, for example — we often have no idea how others think and feel, or how essential some issues are to them that we find silly or unimportant. It’s too easy to hang out in echo chambers of people who sound and look just like us.

Then what do we do about it?

Godin points out in that blog post that blogging is a great way to “meet” the other, whether that’s someone much richer or poorer materially, someone whose political views are not your own or simply someone for whom $10 is a day’s — or week’s — wage, not the price of a (cheap!) Manhattan cocktail.

When I traveled the U.S. to write my first book, about American women and guns, I ended up being a guest on NRA radio, (asked to explain those lefty-liberals in the Northeast) and on NPR (asked to explain gun-owners to the horrified lefty liberals.)

A funny position for a non-gun-owning Canadian!

I’d rather hear another viewpoint (politely!) and debate it intelligently from data (not red-faced emotion) than live in unopposed, cocooned silence. That’s easy, and has become comfortingly normal for many of us.

How about you?

29 thoughts on “Meeting the other

  1. I’m sitting at my desk working on a piece about multiculturalism in Hawaii and your new post comes up! I love it. I lived in Alabama for 5 (long) years and was amazed at how many people there had never been anyway — and more astoundingly — had no desire to see anything beyond the state line! Thank you for this post — it deeply resonated with me.

  2. Nemesis

    Discourse is the very stuff of life…

    And what do we ever learn by conversing only with those who share our WorldView?

    Talked to a Tiger lately?…

      1. Nemesis

        Words ‘o wisdom.

        In the realm of ‘PaperScissorsRock’, Monkey beats Tiger.

        I’m a Monkey [who used to carouse with one of Ang Lee’s roomies].

  3. Polite, intelligent debate is hard to come by these days. I overheard a right wing commentator on TV tonight and he sounded like a rabid dog, just frothing at the mouth. He just wants to impeach the President for the sake of impeaching. No reason, no rationality. Of course, you may remember the bombs placed in mailboxes in Quebec, Caitlin? I do remember the prejudice and contempt against English speakers – took my chances and spoke French as best as I could up there. It helped. I understand what you are saying but sometimes I have to cocoon to have some peace.

  4. At what point does a passionate view diverge toward some sort of psychosis? It’s better, I think, to challenge and accept the differences with a degree of curiosity… healthier for the mind, and soul.

  5. Spoken like a (fellow) Canadian! ๐Ÿ™‚ I think passion is terrific, but mutual respect is the challenge. Living as an expat forces you quickly to adapt (or be miserable) as you are the other, not they!

  6. themodernidiot

    I have perhaps quoted him before, but Henry Rollins said it best, “Knowledge without mileage, is sh*t.”

  7. Terribly curious and oh so very very thankful I finally have the opportunity to try and sate this curiousity. May the journey never end.

    Looks like I’ll be spending a couple of weeks in July in Montreal btw ๐Ÿ™‚ I will think of you when I am there.

    1. This is fascinating! So true…One of the things that makes much journalism REALLY lousy is Ivy educated white men interviewing their friends and/or people they think are cool and pretending that this is the “news.” I could rant on this for days.

  8. Sadly I’ve not traveled as much as I’ve wanted to, but I’ve had the opportunity to visit a couple of other countries, Mexico and Canada (Oh, did I mention Canada? I snuck in illegally…. Shhhh!) But I’ve never shied away from meeting people from other countries and asking questions. With this experiment in blogging/writing I’ve been doing it’s been great getting a chance to read about other bloggers from other countries and learning about them and the worlds in which they live. Also, I find it interesting to find out how they perceive
    Americans. As for meeting other Americans outside my circle, that’s been a constant in my life since I moved out of my parent’s house decades ago. I grew up in a very affluent and liberal suburb of Chicago (A famous writer from my hometown once described it as; “A place of broad lawns and narrow minds.”) since then I’ve lived with, dealt with, worked with, people from uneducated poor, to the very rich and all the economic levels in between…

  9. As I’ve said in the past, I love the internet for the world and people it has opened for me. I never realized how very provincial I was as a New Yorker. Sure, everyone had different careers and skin tones, but basically the same goals and outlook, political views, etc. But the internet is a tool, and I see too many out in cyber space using it as validation that everyone can/should think the way they do, and limit themselves to sites and groups where everyone sings the same chorus. If the internet is a machete, you can use it to hack a path and find new spaces and people, or use it to stay in one narrow space, expending all your energy on defending that space.

    1. “If the internet is a machete, you can use it to hack a path and find new spaces and people, or use it to stay in one narrow space, expending all your energy on defending that space.”

      Sigh. Bloody brilliant. Thanks.

  10. I’ve been lucky enough to have grown up in conservative Arkansas, where I came out as gay and non-religious to a lot of very religious, conservative friends. The discussions we had about it made us all so much more open and accepting of each other and gave me a perspective I would have never had if I grew up in an uber-liberal environment.

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