Disruptive experiences create opportunities for growth and learning.
When we are young, our minds are stretched and challenged at school. But as we get older, it’s easy to settle into our expertise and opinions, basking in the comfort of our own certainty. We are better served by shaking up our thinking. Our lives and wisdom are enriched by disrupting our beliefs and understanding.
In her outstanding book I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, Mónica Guzmán invites us to wonder why we think what we think, and to be open to other perspectives. She points out that we don’t choose our opinions; rather, our lives lead to our views. When someone has a different opinion from me, it means they’ve had different life experiences. I can be mad that they aren’t passionate about the same things I am, but if I listen better, I will discover what they love and why that aims their opinion in a different direction from mine. Guzman points out, “We don’t see the world through our eyes. We see it with our whole biographies.”
The most impactful disruption to our thinking occurs when we share and listen to each other’s heartfelt stories. I was reminded of this today while watching the moving documentary Being ñ (click here to watch). In this film, Denise Soler Cox describes claiming identity for herself and myriad others as an Eñye, a person born in the United States to parents who are from Spanish-speaking countries. Denise reveals the experience of being caught between two cultures without feeling a sense of belonging in either.
I too was born in the U.S. to an immigrant parent. Being functionally bilingual, I could relate to Denise’s description of feeling embarrassed by how haltingly I sometimes speak in my second language. But because my mother is from Austria, I wasn’t subjected to the bias and taunting that Denise and other first-generation Latinos experience. Because I’m white European-American, no one thinks of me as anything but American. Eñyes often don’t get this pass, nor do Asian-Americans, who are seen as “perpetual foreigners” no matter how many generations of American lineage they have. I appreciated how Denise’s open-hearted sharing disrupted and deepened my understanding of belonging.
Guzman points out, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.” By seeking out stories that challenge our world view—through having a conversation, watching a film, reading a novel or memoir, or listening to a speaker—we have a new lived experience, which changes our biographies, disrupts our thinking and expands our opinions.
Photo Credit: Marija Zaric