Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Inner Eight Year Old

My grandparents have moved home a few times. Whenever I see their new place, it immediately feels like a visit to Gran and Grampa. The furniture goes with them, and the paintings and little mementos that are deeply wired into my growing up. There is always a workshop where I will need to find my Grandfather covered in grease working on a new project. My Gran will be making tea in cups I know. The little things that make up their place in the world.

My Grampa in his happy place (with his boy alongside)

Having moved from South Africa in 2008 to explore the world, I find the South African shops a little like the home that moved. It is odd because you don't really get the equivalent 'South African Shops' there. Overseas, the bits are distilled. The 'other' stuff is taken away. All that is left is the differences. I can quite easily walk through the 'tantrum tunnel' to a check out when all the sweets aren't the ones I grew up with. When you take all the little things I haven't seen in a while, and put them in one place, my inner eight year old is over the moon.

When you live close to people, you don't always notice the similarities. The familiarities. You notice the differences. Scott Alexander wrote an incredibly powerful essay 'I can tolerate anything except the outgroup'. When people are very different, we tolerate them. It's easy. What is more difficult is when things are almost the same. When there is so much in common that the differences become the focus. When subgroups get formed and fight. Protestants v Catholics (both Christian). Christian v Jew (Jesus was a Jew). Christian v Islam (both Abrahamic, neighbours in Africa and Europe with ebbing and flowing borders for thousands of years). Greeks and Turks. Pakistan and India.

Little things are different here in the US. Street signs. Traffic lights (we call them robots in South Africa). The brands of sweets. While my Gran's cups may let me know it is her home, the home would have been very much like many others... there. The brands of tea - Five Roses, Rooibos. The appliances. The taps. The company that makes the toilets. There would be things that bind homes that go unnoticed. A few common books on shelves. What is on the TV. The newspaper. 

Visiting my Gran

Being away from home makes people feel patriotic. People don't move because they don't love where they come from. I see far more Springbok rugby jerseys on the streets of London than when I am in Cape Town, Joburg or Durban. More flags waving at away sport events. Differences start to fade when you are extracted, and similarities are distilled. My ears prick up when I hear an accent I recognise.

Mandela and Robots in Chicago

It would be great if our ears could prick up without being away. If we could distil the bits that excite our inner eight year olds. Eight year olds are great at making new friends. One just offered to change his party so that a friend of mine in his 30s (who he had just met) could make it.

Friendships must rise.
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