Friday, June 27, 2008

Frame of reference


Recently, while listening to the news and reading the papers, etc. (on the subject of offshore & ANWR drilling) this blogger was considering how people filter information based on their frame of reference, their prejudices, and their pre-conceived notions. Sometimes this results in both sides (in this case it was Obama- and McCain-supporters) talking past each other. While thinking about how this happens, this blogger suddenly remembered a small story that had occurred many, many years ago

At the time this blogger lived in Bombay (before it was renamed Mumbai). Every morning the garbage wallah would come to our front door on the fourth floor of our apartment building to pick up and physically cart away our garbage. He was a stooped and wizened figure, aged prematurely by what undoubtedly was a very harsh life. Occasionally his son, who looked to be between six and eight, would be with him - helping his father and learning the trade. The next generation of garbage wallah in the making, fated to be so by birth (see the blog entry "Caste" for some fulminations on the evils of this blight…) and by circumstance. We never really interacted in any meaningful way.

Then one day the garbage wallah rang our doorbell and hesitantly asked to speak to my father (note: he knew that my father worked for the national airline and had travelled abroad extensively). When my father arrived the garbage wallah apologized profusely for bothering him, but said that he had a very important question. With a hand trembling due to equal parts suppressed excitement and anticipation he pulled a piece of cloth out of an inner pocket, and cautiously unwrapped it to reveal a number of bills. Obviously he had found them in someone’s garbage, thought that Lady Luck had smiled upon him, and that he had hit the jackpot. He asked my father what they were worth. In vain my father tried to explain to him that this was Monopoly money, game money, play money, and not real currency. From his furrowed brow and demeanor it was obvious that he did not believe what he was hearing…. Slowly he re-wrapped the money, carefully tucked it away, and then with a final suspicious glance he left. I was left with the impression that he thought that we had tried to swindle him out of his good fortune!

The concept of ‘play money’ was not one that he could even conceive of. That some people might be so well off in life that they had ‘play money’ was something that he just couldn’t wrap his mind around, it was completely foreign to his frame of reference…

The lesson that this blogger took away from this is that one really should be well-read and well-informed, and that one should continuously strive to enlarge one’s frame of reference; and that if more people did this then perhaps we might talk to one other more often (rather than past one another).

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