Sometime things happen in your life that you remember many years later. And you wonder why. Here are four that happened to me:
- The time I shared a meal with an African-American
- The time I almost didn’t hire a guy who was different
- The time I was a guest in the home of an Aboriginal family
- The time I lived in Asia as a member of an Asian family
My African-American dinner guests
American’s might be puzzled by this one, but you don’t see a whole lot of African-Americans in an Australian city. As a consequence most Australians have a picture of African-Americans manufactured by media and the entertainment industry.
The husband worked for the USA consulate, and I think perhaps his wife did too. He had a benign sounding job title but the vibes he gave off had me imagining him chasing Jason Bourne. The two of them were probably the most articulate and polite people I have ever had at my dinner table.
My Iranian right-hand-man
In my first ever job (local government) I was tasked to create a work group of four to be managed by yours truly. I was in my early 20’s. One of the applicants stood out as somewhat unusual. He was Iranian, in his mid-40’s, and had a PhD. I wondered how I would manage and whether he would work in with the others in the team. I talked to my boss, and he encouraged me to give the guy a chance.
Fast forward many years. Farrokh was the best right-hand-man/colleague I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Initiative, creativity, reliability, productivity, patience … measured anyway you like.
Visiting indigenous folks
The first time I visited Cairns (North Queensland) I somehow got myself invited to have a coffee at the home of a local family. Again, and like many Australians, my only experience dealing with Aboriginals was avoiding substance-abusers at railway stations, or watching a succession of grifters on TV bad-mouthing (non-aboriginal) Australians whilst helping themselves to untold millions of taxpayer revenue.
The family I visited were nice. They were friendly and hospitable. Their home was just like most Australian homes I had visited. They were ordinary Australians.
I lived for a time in an Asian country. Before that I had only had the briefest of visits to that part of the world. I learnt a lot there. About their culture and, subsequently, about ours. For example I learnt that concepts like ‘common sense’ and ‘good manners’ were not universal … they were specific to the country or region. So just because people didn’t act in accordance with the Aussie model of good manners, didn’t mean they were ill-mannered. It just meant that they were following their own version. Or sometimes they were ignoring both versions. Just like we do sometimes.
All four events at least somewhat surprised me at the time they happened. Why? No doubt someone out there will offer a theory.
As a consequence of these experiences, do I feel that:
- all members of these various sub-sets of society are wonderful people?
- that we should throw open the doors of Australia that everyone might settle here?
- that I am guilty for something my ancestors did, or are alleged to have done to the group in question?
Not one bit. In fact, woke begone!
I do however better recognise that in the absence of first-hand experience, we do rely a lot on the media to form our opinions of others for us. And that the media often presents a distorted and incomplete image.