when I was in high school I read my first Studs Terkel book and it really enamored me to the thoughts of what I could learn from ordinary people who I run into every day... what could they teach me if I struck up a conversation?
in college I took a lot of stats classes and classes on survey research, design and analysis (because they were interesting!) and started to learn more about sample sizes for drawing conclusions and such... I started to wonder "if I talk to enough people can I possibly draw any conclusions about humanity?"
I graduated and moved on into the curious world of "normal people"... a world where you go and work most days a week, where you pay your bills, shop for groceries, go out to the bar, attend weddings, funerals and celebrations and are responsible for bringing a food to Thanksgiving dinner every year... once there, I kept talking to people to try and figure the world out some more... striking up conversations while waiting in line, while at work, while riding the bus or on break... what is it that people want? are we all different? are we all the same? is it possible to categorize people or is it more of a vast human grey area?
over the past 10 or more years I've spoken to thousands of people from a variety of backgrounds- I know that in the scheme of world population that's just a drop in the bucket, but statistically speaking it's a pretty significant population and have really started to wonder about things...
though nobody is the same person, everybody has most of the same basic drives and concerns- everybody worries about money, for instance, and those close to them, everybody likes to laugh, people tend to react when they notice someone smiling at them (most smile back!), things that happen close to home or to people who we know have a bigger impact than things happening to strangers and if you want to see someone show emotions get them good and tired
on the other hand, everyone also has their strange little quirks that set them apart from anyone else I've spoken to and some are rather surprising... the retired businessman who had taken up a crusade to bring back a beverage from his childhood, the night audit guy with no college education who read philosophical works that would make the average college student run and hide while on the clock, the bus stop minister, the metal worker who enjoyed giving out copies of his demo album to anyone who would give him the time of day, the multi-ethnic group of minimum wage workers who have a boys II men tribute band... everyone has their hobbies, their dreams, their quirks... while humanity has it's universal truths, there's nothing truly monolithic about any group of people...
what I don't get is why anyone can think in terms of black and white about humanity in general... good v evil, us v them... how can there be only 16 types of people who use cognitive functions in a rigidly prescribed manner?
do we need a them to be us? do stereotypes make us feel more comfortable? like there's a more manageable number of people on the planet?
do we need to feel like we are special so that our lives have meaning? do we need to put our money where our mouths are? and even then, what makes us special when everyone else has their hidden hobbies and talents as well?
are we all special? is nobody special? are we all special just like everyone else? why does anyone even have the gall to think that nobody can understand them?
I don't get it... the more I learn, the less set in stone anything becomes... certainty goes out the window after a certain number of exceptions... any thoughts, explanations or attempted rationalizations?