People Aren’t That Different

9 05 2008

I’ve lived in quite a few places in my life.  If you’ve ever asked me where I’m from you’ve probably found that out.  Now that I’m getting accustomed to my new place of residence I’ve been reminded of something that gets on my nerves every place I’ve ever lived.  Everyone thinks their city or province or country is different from everyone else in ways that they just aren’t.  In psychology this is called the “false uniqueness effect.”  There are, of course, obvious differences between every city and region, for example, Canada is typically colder than the US, BC has more forests than Kansas, people in Texas tend to be fatter than everyone else and so on.  And people usually get these ones right.  But some of the things that people claim to be unique to only their city are just silly.  Here are a couple of the most common ones:

Many people seem to think that where they live has the craziest weather; I’ve heard people from a variety of cities use the line “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes” as if they are the only city to experience rapid meteorological changes.  This could probably be explained by the statistical phenomenon called “regression to the mean.” This occurs when something stands out because of an extreme score or characteristic, but when it is retested it turns out to be the same as everything else.  In their own city, people get accustomed to the normal pattern of weather and then when something out of the ordinary happens they remember it, and because they’ve never seen it anywhere else they conclude that their city is the only one that experiences that sort of unusual thing.  But, assuming that their trips outside of their home city are relatively short, then probability dictates that the weather would be average in whatever place they visit, not a fair comparison.  So, my point is the type of weather is different from place to place, but not as different as people think.

Another one has to do with the quality of drivers in a person’s region.  Many people claim that their city has the worst drivers ever, or they choose one rival city on whom to bestow the title.  When someone makes a right turn and crosses both lanes to end up in the left lane I’ve heard people from many cities exclaim, “oh, Edmonton drivers are so terrible”, or “that’s what we call a Texas turn”.  But lets get real, that happens everywhere.  I’ve lived and driven in cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Houston, Los Angeles and so on.  Bad drivers are everywhere!  Beside people being wrong in their claim to the worst drivers ever, doesn’t it seem like an odd thing to insist that your city has?  I can understand when people claim that they have the best shopping malls or the best parks or the best hockey team.  But why claim to have the worst of something?  Strange.  Perhaps there’s some sort of deranged prestige that comes with having any sort of superlative something.  

So the lesson to be learned from this is that you’re not as different as you think you are, or at least, not in the ways you think you are.  The drivers in Vancouver, on average, are going to be just as bad as the drivers in LA and anywhere else that has the same motor vehicle laws as we do.  The girls in Florida are going to be, on average, just as attractive as the girls in New York (although the Florida girls may wear less clothing).  I think it would make us a lot more understanding to think more like that.  

The differences and similarities I’ve been using as examples depend a lot on culture and probably wouldn’t hold quite as true anywhere outside of Canada and the US.  But, on a more serious note, I think this tendency to almost force ourselves to be so different and unique from everyone else contributes a lot to the things that are wrong with our world.  I learned something as a missionary for my church that has stuck with me ever since.  I discovered, when talking with people from other religions, that there was often a lot of animosity towards members of my church based on what they thought our beliefs were.  It’s easy for people to get caught up in a lot of the details of my church’s history and miss out on what we really stand for.  After talking with these people for a while we would often realize that our beliefs were much more similar than we thought.  There were still important differences, but when we saw how similar we were, the animosity disappeared.  I think people, on average, desire the same sort of things, but everyone is so concerned with pointing out what’s different and incompatible that we lose sight of what’s similar and common to us all.  

I started out light and got a little heavy by the end.  But I hope I got my point across.

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2 responses

12 05 2008
Fred

I still think San Diego has the prettiest girls!!

13 05 2008
Carole

Not too long at all. I liked it, a good message for us all.

It got me thinking about all the different cultures we have in the world. A lot of energy goes into preserving and promoting the individual differences, and the diversity is enlightening. That’s why people like to travel.

But once you get past the differences you find there remains an underlying commonality, and a need to work together for the common good. Especially in times of disaster.

That’s when true Brotherhood really shines.

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