As an avid traveler and mover, I think I see the world a bit differently than those who have chosen to stay in the same small town or even big city they grew up in or got married in 25 years ago. I think that this sort of life, although fulfilling for some people, and quite dull for others, does have the tendency to encourage the notion that personal tastes and opinions and mores are or should be universal. When we hear the phrase, “that’s offensive” or “that offends me”, we can be fairly certain that the person is living a smaller existence than we are. These are the people who believe with certainty that some things are just inappropriate.
I have often found myself at the beginning of a conversation when I hear, “it’s just inappropriate,” and I sigh inwardly and accept there really is no conversation here. As Spock (Star Trek: The Voyage Home) famously stated, “It would be impossible to discuss the matter without a common frame of reference.”
There simply is not a common frame of reference between people who live small lives with the same people and generally accepted lifestyles and those of us who have met thousands of people around the world and have come to the realization that every single one of us, no matter how much we have in common, is still a culture of one.
The statements, “That’s wrong,” or “that’s inappropriate,” are simply statements that it is or would be wrong for the speaker. It has very little, if any, bearing on the lives of the rest of us. Many people in this country would feel it is wrong to eat dog, and yet a billion or more people around the world are unconcerned by that belief. Some people have strong beliefs on how old a person should be before they marry, or have sex, or drink alcohol, or work full time, or drive a car. But these beliefs are simply local ideals.
Even the choice of reading material is symptomatic of a larger or smaller life. While there are people who cannot afford to travel the world, their curiosity about it will be expressed in their reading choices. Are they reading National Geographic or People magazine?
People of small lives and worlds can ask questions like “do you believe in God,” and no matter what you answer they assume they understood, but no matter what your answer they didn’t. Their question is really, “do you believe what I believe? Do you have the same thoughts? Are we the same?” And people of my tribe understand and embrace that each of us is a culture of one, and together we got a good thing going.