Losing Touch

Removed from the realities of other people’s day-to-day lives, we lose touch with them.

Politicians lose touch with their constituents all the time. Many have no idea what a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk costs. If our politicians had to do their own taxes, think they might get serious about tax simplification?

One recent afternoon, the Prime Minister of Norway decided he’d try to reconnect with common people by posing as a taxi cab driver. I’d give him more credit if he didn’t film it so expertly so that it would get reported on even by distant bloggers. The catalyst no doubt was the fact that he’s behind in the polls. Norway’s population is similar to Washington State’s, so for me, it would be like getting driven by our Governor.

Living through my daughter’s transition from high school to college has taught me I’ve lost touch with the first year college students I teach. Now days, I don’t fully appreciate how hard it is to leave home, live in a small room with a stranger, and have to start from complete scratch making friends.

Similarly, I’ve lost touch with the teaching challenges my grad students will inevitably face when they student teach in primary and secondary schools. Visiting schools is a poor substitute for teaching day in, day out.

Accustomed as I am to having a well-stocked pantry and fridge, I’ve lost touch with people who don’t have enough to eat. Make that the poor more generally. I wonder, what it would be like to not have any savings? Or be in serious debt? To feel like the hole is getting deeper and deeper?

Last week it was reported that 40% of whites have only white friends (and 25% of ethnic minorities have only friends from within their ethnic group). My hometown lacks ethnic diversity for sure, but thanks to the GalPal, I spent one evening last week at a nearby lake with family friends from Mexico. Their 12 year-old daughter taught me how to jet-ski. Despite occasional lake get togethers, I’m not in touch with first generation Americans who aren’t terribly comfortable with English, are supporting extended family members, and are no doubt worried about whether we’ll ever pass meaningful immigration reform.

My favorite People Magazine news story from last week involved Oprah, a $38,100 purse, and a Swiss shop owner who lost touch with the fact that non-whites can in fact be extremely wealthy. O made $77m last year. Oops.

The shop owner’s gaffe is a reminder that all of us live in varying degrees of out-of-touchness. All the time.

The only antidote is curiosity. We need to acknowledge the limits of our understanding and ask questions of others. And listen and learn.

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