Expectations and Experiences


Expectations influence every aspect of a culture.

There are parts 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 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) 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 will instead be staggered 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 so-called ‘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.


  1. What are you reading to make you think of Congo! Yeah, I grew up in the jungles of Florida, lol! All the countries I've visited or plan to visit are developed. Man, I can't imagine being without food unless I was doing some spiritual enlightenment journey retreat thing.

    But, still I am a gulf away from high society in LA. What that must be like. I wonder why you are a refugee from LA, it seems so nice?

  2. That's one of the strange ironies of living in a place like the USA. It feels nearly impossible to change things around here, courtesy of a slow-moving government and unimaginable bureaucratic red tape, but even with all of these problems I have to remember how lucky I am to be born in the land of opportunity.

    It all comes down to perspective, I guess. I almost expect nothing to get done around here, which makes it that much easier to maintain the status quo. Still, even in an unchanging country, I'm better off than most.

    Great post, Colin.

  3. What a thought-provoking article, Colin. Thank you for sharing this concept with all of us! We need to hear more of these deeper topics, at least, every now and then. This is reality and we're living it right now, right this second.

    The experiences we have growing up is just another explanation of our diversity in thought, philosophy, beliefs, viewpoints, and stances we take on all aspects of life.

    To limit ourselves is to stay within our own boundaries, but sometimes, that is all we know and are comfortable with. It is easy to say that we should think beyond our own limited viewpoints, but much harder to actually try and do. So long as we try, I believe each of us can make much progress in changing the way we view the world, others, and ourselves.

  4. Very nice, Colin. I love it when you publish essays that touch on some of your deeper philosophical bents.

    One thing I think it would behoove all of us to consider is that you don't have to go to the Congo to find people who grew up in ways that have uniquely colored their perspectives.

    Right here in our own country, we have plenty of people who grew up right inside of our perceived abundance and know what it's like to see firsthand, on a daily basis, how the other half lives.

    In my own travels (and other experiences meeting new people), I have noticed that those who grew up in more privileged environments (relatively speaking) lack a basic understanding of what could possibly be so challenging or combative about growing up here.

    But your analogy does extend nicely to include comparisons between classes and communities within this country. At least it is a starting point for expanding our awareness and teaching us to look at the bigger picture.

  5. “held back by it’s own success” that's the most valuable point to question because when success doesn't help to multiply itself in others's success, then it'll be screwing the moral of it's own legacy.
    What I think is that we need to reinvent the way we think success.
    We need to invent success 2.0: your success loosely coupled with other's success

  6. 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

    Hello Colins. I can totally relate to this coming from Nigeria where my politicians are as corrupt as they come. But I think the greatest injustice we do to others is measuring their joy by our own standard. That is what causes the divide. Deciding that 4 square meals/1 glass of wine a day is essential for life hence the person that drinks none is sub-human. When we do this we deny that man his humanity cause what truly binds us is 'sharing commonalities in the most basic of human experiences': joy, sadness, fear, illness, death, betrayal and that is what connects us in the end. black or white, rich or poor.

  7. “You should appreciate your life more when you see how lucky you are compared to the poor.”

    I don't entirely agree with that statement.

    I love the lens analogy. It puts us on relatively equal ground with the rest of humanity.

  8. Being able to see the world through new viewpoints is something that I'm looking forward to a lot once I start traveling. I think it will be a challenge to not see things only as I see them, but to really get inside the minds of those who are at that place all the time. That's what this post made me think of. Great stuff as usual, Colin.

  9. I think there are tons of poor people in other countries that are waaaayyy happier than the richest LA kids because they don't even have the concept of shallow materialism.

  10. It's amazing that despite how much we have and are still able to be unhappy & live unfulfilling lives. You'd think we'd learn one of these days =(

    “It’s terrible that other human beings should be kept at such a standard of living in 2010″ I totally agree, but I think a good follow up question is: what can we do about the disparity?

  11. I think there is a tendency to view new cultures as inferior to our own. Travelers focus on the deficiencies and often complain. “This is so much better in my country” type of arguments.

    However, after spending enough time in a new country I think most people start to understand that differences are not better or worse, just different.

    It is funny, now that I am back in my home country of Canada for a little while, I am comparing all the ways that Japan was better. My cultural expectations have changed a lot over the years.

  12. Yes! This spoke to the core of my sociology-obsessed being :) You might enjoy “The Needs of Strangers” by Michael Ignatieff (http://amzn.to/jHzhCr) if you haven’t already read it. It’s not perfect but it offers great thoughts and the writing is good.

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