Americano and a Buckeye

Twelve days in I find myself in the student union of the
Ohio State University sipping coffee and scribbling in a notebook. Quite
possibly my favorite thing in life is sitting down alone with a cup of coffee
confronting the day as it unfolds around me. For a second a glance up and watch
the people that surround me, and I realize I’m back at my usual coffee shop in
Urbana, Illinois. In my mind, the students at Ohio State University appear just
like the students at the University of Illinois, and probably the University of
North Carolina, or Arizona, or Idaho, or any university across this country.

My problem is simple: I’m a rotten generalizer.

More often than necessary I put people into “boxes” based on
too simple of patterns. The obvious problem with boxes is that they limit
movement, capability, and expectations. Boxes restrict how you view and
understand people.

A philosophical goal of mine not too long ago was to
understand how people around the world were the same (the “universals “); to
consciously place humanity into a box. I thought if people proved to be more
similar than thought world problems could be more easily eradicated.

As it turns out, people are very rarely similar. Regardless
of how one chooses to identify or what situation one is born into, a life with
every experience is too unique to be placed in a box. What I think I’ve always
searched for is connection, but to see how people in the world are connected is
not to see how people in the world are similar. The real challenge is to see
connection through the vast amounts of diversity.

In the past twelve days I feel like I’ve gained real insight
in how to perceive people when they disclose themselves. On day one of the ride
I met Clinton, a survivor of cancer when he was just 36, who was now homeless.
A few days later I met Eda, left as a child when her mother died of cancer, who
was born and raised in a rough neighborhood of inner city Philadelphia. Certain
aspects of these two seemed salient enough to place them too quickly into a box,
and if I had done that when I approached them I would have missed truly hearing
the stories of two people in this world.

As a dire pessimistic at times, these last twelve days have
helped me understand how I had been limiting humanity as a whole. I except the
world to be a certain way, and it expect it to never change. But today, in the
usual act of sitting down with a cup of coffee, I’ve gained respect for people
as unique individuals with all sorts of experiences, and I’ve gained a little
hope for the world.


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