Rednecks Or Rainbows?

Recently, I moved from the Midwest to North Carolina. I’d been in North Carolina before. I spoke at a conference in Asheville some years ago, and stayed in the glorious Grove Park Inn. I rather liked it.

But that was visitor Scott, traveling-man Scott, for-a-limited-timeonly Scott. But for the last 45 day, I’ve taken in North Carolina as resident Scott. And that’s different.

Do you know that bias that says our own customs, speech patterns, foods, etc. are normal, and those of everyone else are less normal? Don’t roll your eyes in judgment at that statement! We all carry biases, even when we don’t say them in polite company. We probably have at least a little latent thinking that the customs of wherever we hail from, the speech patterns of whatever dialect or accent we carry with us, the foods from our youth…all of these are  somehow NORMAL and everything else is left-of-center.

So when I told my brother that I was moving to North Carolina, I wasn’t surprised by his anticipated, familial response:

“North Carolina is a state for runners…people either running from the law or running out of options.”

I didn’t find his criticism…well, critical. Because the region of the Midwest from whence we hail is well known for cynicism and sarcasm.

So once I moved, I’m not about to say that I expected the Welcome Wagon to show up with a couple of complimentary tickets to NASCAR, maybe a jug of moonshine, perhaps a coupon for free banjo lessons, a carton of smokes, and a mess o’ fried chicken with all o’ the fixin’s courtesy of Aunt Bee.

But there’s a part of me that did half expect it.

I should say at this point that my North Carolinian friend, Jocelyn, found my stereotype of the region amusing. She assured me that the only moonshine that she knew about came out at night when the sky was clear, and the only time she heard a banjo was when Steve Martin came to play in Raleigh.

My trust in Jocelyn convinced me that the area of North Carolina in which I was moving did not harbor prison refugees but instead an interesting blend of academics leaders, scientists, researchers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

And, of course, I took her at her word, and I was not surprised that she described the area quite accurately.

Do you remember the Rosenhan Experiment from Psychology 101? The Rosenhan experiment, if you recall, tested the hypothesis that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the difference between people who are sane and those who are insane.

Eight very normal researchers played the part of fake patients, and they called various hospitals complaining that they had been hearing voices. After these pseudo patients were admitted into the psychiatric ward, the hospital staff told them that they would be released once they exhibited no signs of mental illness. Immediately, the fake patients stopped faking mental illness and hearing voices. Instead, they returned to acting as models of sanity.

Ironically, it took one fake patient 7 days to gain a discharge from the hospital. It took another one 52 days!

In broader terms, Rosenhan suggests that we see what we expect to find. The staff at the mental hospitals expected to find an insane person acting insanely. So even when a sane person acted sanely, they couldn’t interpret their observations to reflect reality.

So in my case, if I expected to find North Carolina populated with hillbillies, I would have found them somewhere. But I didn’t. I expected to find wonderful people, beautiful beaches, scenic mountains, and picturesque woodlands. And I found all of those things.

Take this lesson to heart. If you start a new job expecting that you won’t like your coworkers, you will find reasons to dislike your coworkers. If you tell yourself that becoming a parent is a drag and it will cramp your lifestyle, it will. If you unhappily attend a party knowing that it will suck the life force out of you, it will suck the life force out of you. If you expect that you’ll endlessly bounce around from flawed relationship to flawed relationship, you’ll become a human yo-yo.

But if you want to see better looking things, expect to find better looking things. Expect to find kind, friendly, smart, passionate, talented people wherever you go. Plan on seeing sights that will turn your eyes into an Ansel Adams camera lens. Anticipate being bowled away with new experiences. Go out on a limb and predict that you will soon stumble across a new favorite, must-have thing in your life, like maybe a food, a song, a person, or a memory.

If you expect to see crap, you’ll tend to see crap. If you expect to see rainbows and catch candy raindrops in your mouth, you might just find those, too. You’ll see whatever it is you expect to find.

0 Comments Add yours

  1. Laurence says:

    It’s all about having the right expectations, and choosing the outlook you want to have on life… Might as well be looking for rainbows and unicorns!

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