Different Strokes - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity


Different Strokes

Different people have different tastes.

I'm sure that idea doesn't startle you. If I asked you, "Do you take it for granted that everyone else in the world thinks exactly the same way that you do?", you would surely reply, "Of course not."

But while people know this is true at some abstract level, accepting it in practice is sometimes difficult.

One of my favorite examples comes from my college psychology textbook. It included a chapter on decision-making. In that discussion, to illustrate a point about how we make decisions, the writer asked, Suppose that one of your friends who is just graduating got a job that paid a lot of money, in a small town in the south. Well, the author said, it would be pretty obvious that he took the job just for the money. But on the other hand, he continued, suppose he got a job that paid a lot of money, and it was in a big city "in one of the most interesting parts of the country". Well then you couldn't say for sure why he took the job: there would be so many good reasons.

It apparently never occurred to this writer that there might be people in the world who would actually prefer to live in a small town in the south than in a big city in ... well, he never specified what he thought the "most interesting parts of the country" are, but my guess is he meant Los Angeles and New York. He just assumes that everyone in the world would really prefer to live in the kind of place where he likes to live, and if someone lives anyplace else, it must be because of some unusual circumstance that in their special case outweighs the obvious advantages of living the sort of life that this textbook writer prefers.

What was, perhaps, particularly disturbing or at least puzzling about this particular example is that it was from a psychology textbook. That is, someone who claims to be an expert on how people think, to be teaching others to understand how people think, and he himself has no comprehension of what motivates all the millions of people who choose not to live in big cities in California or the Boston-Washington corridor, which last I checked would be about 80% of the population of the United States. He does not even consider the possibility that all the people who do not live in his city might have reasons of their own for not wanting to live there. He just knows that they all wish they could and are suffering greatly because they are forced to live somewhere else.

© 2005 by Jay Johansen


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