Expectations influence every aspect of a culture.
There are regions of the world where people subsist on very little food and water, live in ramshackle homes (if that) and deal with the constant threat of disease and crime. The streets are dirt (or nonexistent) and the average level of education is incredibly low.
There are other parts of the world where some people grow up wanting for nothing. They are so well-off and tended to by society that, instead of worrying about eating to survive, they make sure they’re seen at the best restaurants, paying what some people make in a year for one meal (and the social status that comes with eating so luxuriously).
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty — in fact, ideally we would all be in the latter situation, even if we didn’t make use of the resources in the same way — but I do want to point out a very important similarity between these two cultural experiences.
In both cases, the only lens through which one can view the world is the one they were brought up with. They can hear about other people from worlds away, sure, but that’s not the same as really, truly living that lifestyle.
Bring a Congolese refugee to LA and have them live the high-life and they’ll be just as big a fish out of water as Paris Hilton would be if she were tossed into the middle of an impoverished warzone.
Both of these situations come with their own benefits and hinderances.
In Miss Hilton’s case, she’s able to move mountains with her influence and wealth, living as if the world is her playground and piggybank, and she’s right. On the other hand, the culture she comes from (my culture, the US-flavor of Western culture) is one that is held back by it’s own success. We have become accustomed to an incredibly high standard of living (on an historical scale, as well as contemporary) and this means that if an advancement (technological, culture, whatever) would inconvenience even a small chunk of the population, the process might be hindered in order to keep people living in their bubble.
The refugee, on the other hand, has detriments galore, hardly able to go about their daily life without being oppressed or suppressed in some way. Inconvenience is hardly an issue, as there are so many other pressing concerns, and this is both a boon and bane to their existence.
It’s terrible that other human beings should be kept at such a standard of living in 2010, but at the same time, the hardships that they are enduring will allow them to advance and maneuver in a way that the ‘Western World’ cannot.
There’s an uproar every time a road goes under construction in the US, but if a road is paved in the Congo, it’s reason for celebration.
Our expectations color our experiences, and the way we see the world is influenced by both.
Keeping this in mind makes it much easier to see the forest despite the trees.
Update: January 6, 2017
This is one of the original pieces in which I started to expound on the idea of viewing the world through different lenses. It’s a metaphor I make greater use of later on, including in some of my books, but it was an important realization for me, if not a truly original idea.