Anthropological Default

We’re different people when we travel. Away from the stresses and habits of ‘normal,’ we allow ourselves to open up and explore. To try new things and consider new perspectives.

It’s not a stretch to find yourself overseas, on vacation perhaps, nodding your head and smiling as you listen to Romanian folk music. Or oohing and ahhing over cave paintings. Or enjoying a picnic under the Eiffel Tower.

All this, even if you don’t care for folk music. Or Paleolithic art. Or Futurist architecture. Why? Because you’re outside yourself, away from your norms. Out in the world, you needn’t adhere to a defined set of likes and dislikes because you’re exploring. You’re an anthropologist in the field, seeing what you can see, enjoying what you find for what it is not how it jives with your personal context.

Back home, of course, we define ourselves as much by what we don’t like as what we do. This music is good music, and this music is bad. This artistic period is good, but paintings from this other period can go to hell. We’re exposed to songs and art and food and all kinds of things all the time, and based on very little data we determine what’s okay and what isn’t. What is a valuable addition to our self-identities and what isn’t.

“I want to be associated with this kind of person, this kind of music, this kind of brand,” we subconsciously say to ourselves. As a result, all else is excluded, often with nothing more to go on but a vague notion of what that other, different-from-us type of person is, what kind of music they listen to, what brands they wear.

What’s stopping us from appreciating anything and everything? What’s stopping us, for instance, from appreciating country music within one context (that of the genre), indie rock within a different context, and classical music within a completely different one?

What’s stopping us, in short, from approaching the world from an anthropological standpoint all the time? From saying, “Isn’t this fascinating?” about anything we want, separating appreciation from self-identity? Being explorers of everything, not just of the tiny sliver of experience we allow ourselves before passing judgement on the rest?

The concept is liberating, allowing us to unabashedly explore any number of fields and topics without worrying that such exploration will sully our otherwise carefully curated identities as expressed through our tastes. The only thing standing in our way is our habit of ‘liking’ as a means of personal expression.

Consider making ‘appreciate’ a more important part of your vocabulary than ‘like.’ As a word, it’s far richer in scope, and it allows us to break free of our own self-constructed shells by disconnecting our personal-development process from our sense-of-self product.

Update: April 15, 2017

Separating appreciation from self-identity. Exactly.

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