Had I not been subject to the darkness, I could not have seen the light.
— Midrash (translated from Hebrew)
Every now and then, I feel the need to expand on my level of knowledge or experiences to create a change in myself, whether major or minor. The easiest way for me to do this is by reading an article, blog, or book that I normally wouldn’t find myself reading, but I also enjoy going somewhere that I haven’t been yet. When I do this, I set off a mind bomb and become more aware of myself and my surroundings.
In the Everything is a Remix video series, the author gives concrete examples of how film is reliant on previous films in order to create something new. This could be applied to most art forms, such as the Romans copying the original Greek statues and making them their own. With life, as in art, who we are now is greatly influenced by previous events, or in anticipation of future events (birth of a child, a concert, a move).
We can fight this concept to death but the result will be the same: we are mirror images of the people who we have had direct or indirect contact with. The list of potential influencers on our lives is infinite, but includes parents, teachers, news stories, the creepy old man on the bus, a sign in a foreign language, and so forth. Knowing that what we come into contact with is going to change us, we can tweak the system so it works more in our favour, make things less of a surprise.
This is not about preparing ourselves for what may happen, but instead putting yourself out there to allow a change to happen. Becoming a lifehacker in its truest sense. This can be an exciting and scary process all at once. I am not a radical at all, so my suggestions will be relatively safe – meaning calculated risks.
Here are three different examples in some core areas of everyone’s lives:
Political or Religious Beliefs
We have all grown up in a culture that is somewhat (or extremely) religious, or a culture that was more atheist. Likewise, we generally grow up in a political environment that leans one way or other on the political scale and resist being completely open to other opinions. Once I started reading some different books that had some religious undertones (Lord of the Rings and Shogun being two that come to mind), I started to open myself up a bit to exploring other cultures to see what really is out there. I did not want to be fed information from the media or other pop culture. I took a dive into some of the original texts (ie The Book of Mormon, the Koran), watched foreign films to see alternative ways in creating culture (The Last Emperor, Raise the Red Lantern, Red/White/Blue), and developed friendships with people living alternative lifestyles (emo, gays, lesbians, ravers). I did this out of curiousity, but the end effect is that these experiences either strengthened my previous opinions, or allowed me to destroy those opinions and develop new ones.
In almost all cases, it helped me develop a universal respect for people and how they chose to live their lives. The only real exceptions are two experiences that may have been potentially dangerous for me to do. It was a barrier I wanted to get past though.
When I worked in Hartford, CT as an intern at a theatre, I was housed in two different areas of the city. One area was south of the downtown district in an older area of the town, not too far away from a Whole Foods and strip malls. The other area was in West Hartford, which is the more affluent area of the city (incidentally, Mark Twain’s house is in this area). The common aspect of them both is that they have a ghetto area close by that was known for the gang activity. In Syracuse, NY, when I lived there five years after living in Hartford, I lived relatively close to downtown and could walk to work. I could take a long way to work and go through the heart of downtown, or take a short cut through a predominantly African-American neighbourhood. Looking at the houses and buildings in the area, I would say that it is a lower income housing or a lot condemned buildings. In both cities, I chose to walk through these very, non-Caucasian areas to experience what those people live in.
I did this almost daily in Syracuse, only during the week in Harford avoiding the weekends. Every time I walked along those sidewalks at night, my heart skipped a beat every time I saw more than one person together. When I looked down one street and saw two large groups of people yelling and pointing at each other, I kept walking. Faster than usual. Both of these experiences solidified what you see in movies like Boyz in the Hood or Menace II Society (both great movies, by the way): life can be dangerous on the streets. I would still do it all over again in a heart beat to test my opinions and previous judgments.
This is a similar to the last two stories. By placing yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you are forced to either adapt or to get out. In creating discomfort, it can be as simple as going to an art gallery opening or attending a symphony concert – something you normally would never do.
- To place yourself in an uncomfortable zone to discover new likes/dislikes
- Expand your cultural acceptance of new art forms, music, food
An unfinished draft, but I wanted to get it out there instead of wasting away