I am a 46 year old, college educated, white father of two. I live in the Midwest, I believe in God, I don’t take drugs and I say “good morning” to a surprisingly large number of people almost every day. Statistically speaking, I am so average it is nearly impossible for someone like me to be cool. The only way for one to discover how cool I am is to ask me if I am directly. Not to worry, I will tell you.
Having written that short list of depressing realities, I reflect on a business meeting I was in yesterday. I was the newcomer to a group of ten people and found myself shaking my head in confusion regarding data to which the rest of the room was happily nodding their heads in approval. Shortly after I determined that these people weren’t stupid or crazy, I figured out the reason for our differences. To describe it in a word: perspective. It turns out after investigation that I was the only man in the room, but more importantly, the only person truly ignorant on the topic. That combination may go hand in hand quite often, but rarely is it as noticeable to the man in question.
My demographic doesn’t get to be the obvious and profound minority in the room often enough. That is not a complaint aimed at all of the “weird” people out there, it’s actually aimed at all the seemingly uncool people that look, act and think just like me. As a professional in the arena of public policy, I can easily identify situations where interest groups have spent too much time locked in their private rooms agreeing with their own brilliant ideas for too long. It is a pitfall to avoid in policy development. If the brilliant idea doesn’t have a diverse base of support, it usually turns out to be less than brilliant. That same principle can be applied throughout our daily lives.
As I grow older I find myself more and more interested in what every other demographic thinks about virtually everything. I am not always more agreeable to alternative perspectives, but learning those alternatives does make me wiser. I am not going to seek explanation for my growing interest in “minority” perspectives. I enjoy the interest I have and I believe this actually does make me more interesting as a result.
The point of all of this is to suggest that my strange and seemingly unprovoked interest in the points of view of young people, women, gays, Christians, Muslims, etc. may not be making me cool, but it is making me less strange. America’s middle aged white guys could improve themselves a bundle by simply seeking the knowledge that surrounds them from people with perspectives that are different from their own. For too long our group has described everyone else as the odd ones, but it seems being “weird” is what has become truly cool. And we have become just the opposite of weird.
Go to a different church one week. Drive a different route to work, or walk or bike if you can. Go to a movie that you think just might suck (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” turned out to be great!). Listen to a country music radio station every once in a while to make sure that sound actually does suck. Try sushi and find out is the best food on the planet. It is amazing how these little things can broaden your horizons. Everyone should try it, especially us.