Jumping to Conclusions: Bad Exercise

“A major tornado has hit a provincial capital in southern Canada!”
It was Friday, July 31, 1987, when Jo and I heard this news headline on Brazilian radio.  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 twenty fatalities.”

Edmonton? Canada’s northernmost provincial capital? The gateway to the North? With its long cold winters, it’s in southern Canada? My wife 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, looking at a map of North America, I understood 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 fifty percent of Canada, it’s in the southern fifteen percent!

Eli‘s Worldview Versus Hannah’s Reality
I thought of that long-ago incident recently when I read the story in 1 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.

Eli’s worldview led him to judge praying Hannah as a drunk. The reporter’s worldview saw Edmonton as a provincial capital located in the southern fifth of Canada, while some Edmontonians see themselves as the northernmost outpost of civilization.

People tend to misinterpret actions by others who have a different worldview. It happens between adults and children, immigrants and long-time residents, retired seniors and college students, international travelers and local residents, and between the haves and the have-nots in our society.

Topless Canela Women
One day a cargo truck stopped in the Canela village on its way to a Brazilian settlement. When the six young Brazilian men, catching a ride on the truck, saw all the Canela women were bare-breasted, they concluded this was a village of sluts and began to behave accordingly. Taking off their shirts and smirking lewdly into each other’s cameras, they draped their arms over the shoulders of half-naked Canela women. As Brazilians, they came from a hyper-sexed society, like our North American culture, which views breasts as sex objects, while to Canelas, breasts were simply baby-feeding organs.

Canela Banking System
When we started our twenty-plus years of living among the Canela, it seemed like we were living in a village of beggars since our neighbours kept asking us for things. It was only after we understood the culture more thoroughly that we realized they were not beggars at all. They were just practicing a centuries-old credit-based trading system.

When a hunter brought home fifty pounds of deer meat, he would have plenty left over after feeding his family. With neither salt nor refrigeration, he had no way to preserve it. So, when neighbours came and asked 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. No paper, no IOUs—the entire village-wide credit and debit system was based on mutual understanding and family memory.

So What?
The next time we see someone do something that strikes us as crazy, we probably should ask ourselves, “Is this person of a different age, background, culture, race, gender or nationality?” If so, we need to recognize that this “crazy” action may be perfectly acceptable in the other person’s worldview.

Exercise is good for us, but not when we jump to wrong conclusions. That simply shows our ignorance.