Break out of your comfort zone: Write and relate with those who are different to YOU.
Traditionally, when we contemplate the Internet and all its inherent possibilities in terms of relating and communicating with other people, we think of it as a tool to meet those who are similar to us. In an era where people can often feel disconnected to one another because of overpopulation, geographical separation, or differences in perspectives on life, the Internet has become a medium where we can meet others of like mind, belief, experience and who have similar interests and fields of expertise.
However, let us view the other side of the proverbial coin of communicative opportunity: The Internet opens channels where we can meet and learn to understand and empathise with those who have completely different outlooks to our own. Opening our eyes to try and feel what it’s like to experience and perceive the world from a person’s shoes that we’d normally never spend time relating with is a chance to expand our minds, as well as our compassion and comprehension of other human beings.
For example, let’s say you’re travelling on public transport in your home city, be it on the bus, train, tram, boat, or even taxi. When are you most likely to start up a conversation with a stranger? Usually, the answer will be when you see something in that person that relates to your own world. If you’re an Information Technology student and you see someone reading a Wired magazine, there’s a definite sign the person in question may have something of interest to say. Why do we talk to strangers on occasion? It’s because we’re social creatures, and we’ve learnt to understand that you never know when your meeting with a new person could change your life, be it in a small or large fashion.
When do we not think twice about talking to someone? That’s easy; when the person looks like someone we have nothing in common with, we often feel speaking to them would be a waste of time and effort. Don’t judge a book by its cover! How many interesting people, whether or not they have something in common with us, do we miss out on meeting everyday? How many people have you come across whom after getting to know them, are totally different from your preconceived ideas of what they’d be like? How many had different views than your own, but were very interesting nonetheless?
The Internet gives us access to many different kinds of people, via their websites, blogs, forums, chat rooms etc. Why only search out those people that already see life similarly, or who are interested in the same topics as you? If you believe in and write about the virtues of democracy, does this mean you should discount the socialist’s perspective on society? Their views are just as valid as your own, and if you do attempt to understand their perspectives, you never know what depth of knowledge you can achieve. When our minds expand, so do the depths of our actions.
Instead of judging others for having different beliefs, why not undertake a rapport with the opposing side? Discussion and conversation via blog comments etc. gives us an opportunity to gain insight, and thus wisdom, by obtaining a more holistic view of an issue. Take a classical pianist who one day accidentally walks into a bar where the piano player is playing jazz. Do they walk straight back outside because the whole jazz philosophy contrasts so intensely to their own learned classical musical theories? Or, do they wait until the end of the show to have a chat with the jazz player? This is how new genres of music have formed. If we’re open to new ideas, even if they clash with our own current way of seeing things, the results can be phenomenal.
On the Internet you may have a blog or website dedicated to your love of digital photography. There are lots of other people you can ‘talk shop’ with out there, to get new ideas on how to make interesting and artistic photos. But what about that lady whose site is dedicated to the more archaic and traditional SLR camera photographic techniques? If you strike up a conversation with her about why she chooses to stick with the old technology, you never know what insight it could give you for your own efforts.
The experience of relating to people different from ourselves may not be comfortable for you, especially if you hold your belief close to your heart, and others’ beliefs are in direct contrast to your own. Let’s say you have a ‘Pro choice’ website that is dedicated to spreading the word about the right to have an abortion. Normally, in this situation we might steer clear of ‘Pro life’ websites and blogs whose content is the complete anathema of our own. However, if you can communicate, read and relate to these opposing idealists, a lot could come from the experience. At the least, you’ll have a much better idea of why they believe what they do, and know like yourself, they’re simply people who believe they’re doing something for the good of humanity. Anger could dissipate, empathy could be ignited and friends could be made.
If you have a small business that sells a niche product like skateboards, you could focus all of your writing and marketing efforts on attracting the people who already buy your product. On the other hand, the real way to expand your income opportunities is to excite people who currently have little interest in what you do. What kind of articles or promotions could you write that might incite new types of customers to buy?
It’s so easy for us to find a comfortable place in the world, whether it’s in our living room, neighbourhood, or website/Internet community. The danger with becoming too comfortable is that our minds become stiff and brittle, our emotions numb and our spirits hungry for something more. When we write on the Internet, be it on a blog or your own company’s website, don’t be afraid to communicate with those who you imagine are different to you. What other people have to offer isn’t written on their faces, and often isn’t even written on their site’s pages; the act of exploration into the often scary, mysterious unknown can show us what our community as a whole has to offer, as well as what we ourselves have to give to others.
By Jesse S. Somer Dec. 2008
Jesse S. Somer writes on the Internet to relate with as many others as possible; whether they’re similar or different to him is irrelevant.