It was Friday, July 31, 1987, when I heard the news on Brazilian radio. “A major tornado has hit a provincial capital in southern Canada.” I listened carefully, expecting to hear about Toronto, Ontario which is on the same latitude as South Dakota. Imagine my surprise when the announcer said, “Edmonton, a city in southern Canada, suffered major damage with 20 fatalities.”
Edmonton!? Canada’s northernmost provincial capital? The gateway to the North? With its long cold winters, it’s in southern Canada? Jo and I looked at each other and shook our heads, as much in dismay over the grief caused by the tornado, as over the ignorance of the announcer.
But, later, when I looked at a map of North America, I could understand why the reporter considered Edmonton to be in southern Canada. That’s because it is! It is well over 2,500 km from the northern boundary, and only 500 km from the southern border. It’s not just in the southern 50 percent of Canada, it’s in the southern 15 percent!
Eli‘s Worldview Versus Hannah’s Reality
I thought of this incident when I read the story in 1st Samuel 1, of Eli the priest seeing Hannah, the childless woman, moving her lips but not uttering a sound. He glanced at her and knew he’d seen that behaviour before, in drunks. So he rebuked her for being drunk. Wrong! She was anything but drunk. She was fervently praying for a child.
In his worldview, he saw soundlessly moving lips as evidence of drunkenness. In the reality of Hannah’s worldview, she was praying. In the reporter’s worldview, he saw Edmonton as a provincial capital located in the southern fifth of Canada, while Edmontonians see ourselves as the northernmost outpost of civilization.
People constantly tend to misinterpret actions by others who have a different worldview. It happens between adults and children, immigrants and long-time residents, seniors and college graduates, international travelers and local residents, and between the haves and the have-nots in our society.
Canela Women’s Bare Breasts
One day a cargo truck stopped in the Canela village on its way to a Brazilian town. When the young Brazilian men who were catching a ride on the truck saw all the women were topless, hundreds of them, they immediately assumed they were in a village of sluts and began to behave accordingly. They took pictures of each other draping their arms over the shoulders of half naked Canela women while they grinned lewdly into their friends’ camera. As Brazilians, they came from a hyper-sexed society, like our North American culture, which views breasts as sex objects, while on Canela mothers, breasts were thought of as baby feeding organs.
Canela Banking System
When we started our 20 plus years of living among the Canela, it seemed like we were living in a village of beggars since our neighbours kept asking for things from us. It was only after we understood the culture better that we realized they were not beggars, but simply practicing trading on the credit system. For generations they had been without refrigeration, or salt to preserve meat. When a hunter brought home fifty pounds of deer meat, he would have plenty left over after feeding his family. So when neighbours would come and ask for some meat, he would gladly give it, knowing he was building up credit with them, to cash in the next time they had excess food. For generations the Canelas had used this incredible mental debt and credit system. No paper, no IOUs, it was all done on mutual understanding and family memory.
We saw them at first as a village of beggars, but we were wrong, the Canelas were operating a sophisticated banking system where debts and credits generally were kept in balance. American bankers could have learned something from them!
Next time you see someone do something that strikes you as crazy, ask yourself, Is this person of a different age, culture, nationality or nationality? If so, try to understand why that action may be perfectly okay in the other person’s worldview.
When was the last time you jumped to a wrong conclusion and said something that showed up your ignorance?