Do you know how many people live extremely isolated, cut-off lives without even knowing it? The numbers are astounding, and they are non-discriminatory. People in crowded cities, remote and rural areas, among friends and relatives, with very busy lives, or with few friends and family, living simple, quiet existences. all are affected. Most are are living in their own world, unable to go beyond their self-created borders - in a state of consciousness I call Blind Isolation.
A case study conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where they "*interviewed culturally diverse students about their "critical moments": times when their difference(s) by race/ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, disability, and/or gender, set them apart from the culture of the university in ways that silenced them. In in-depth interviews, students describe troubling experiences that almost led them to drop out of school." There are really no surveys or studies to show the numbers, and there is no real way to calculate it, but this type of isolation is a very real existence for most people. Though the case study done in Omaha was limited to culturally diverse students, and how their differences actually silenced them at times, isn't it fair to say that all humans are culturally diverse, especially in Westernized countries? Though we are not all students attending university, do not our differences silence us at times as well? Do these same silencers not keep us from pursuing certain interests? Though many of the students in the study felt "different" and victim to some sort of discrimination, this isn't the case with Blind Isolation.
It affects all races and genders, able and disabled alike. those of us who are very active and busy in society, who are members of the gym and know everyone by name, who frequent the same news stand, and are in constant communication with friends and relatives. It afflicts people covertly. They never know what hit them.
Like an old LP (those black, vinyl discs spanning about 12" or so - for those of you too young to recall), when it gets stuck in one groove of the record, after playing the same song too many times. suddenly, most of us find that we too are "stuck." We go to the same job, hang out with the same types of people, see the same faces, buy the same cereal, etc. on a daily or regular basis.We've been infected with Blind Isolation, and don't know how we got there, or how to remedy the illness.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE? Many of us can't or simply don't venture beyond our own pre-fabricated boundaries. We think we are very well-connected, and we may very well be, but we have unwittingly cut ourselves off from a large percentage of the population. By failing to extend our circles outward, we are missing out on other ideas, ideologies, cultural sways, and more. So many friends of mine have said, were it not for taking that one chance and going beyond their normal habit scope (dining at the bistro downtown that received rave reviews in the paper, instead of the restaurant on the corner, because it is easier, faster, cleaner, what-have-you), they may never have met some of the most interesting, most successful, and most influential people in their lives! Still, those of us lucky enough to have a large group of friends from diverse backgrounds are not exempt from this blind isolation, and missed opportunities. We frequent the same familiar coffee shop, nightclub, grocery store, or post office.
We like it that way. We justify it because it gives us that much needed sense of community. We feel as though we "belong" when people recognize us, and call us by name. For this reason, we do it to ourselves.
HOW DO WE REMEDY IT? Remember that study conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha? Well, they found that how students interpreted their experiences was much more important than the experience itself, whether positive or negative. Also, these students had no place to discuss what was happening. In the case studies, once they were afforded a place to discuss their experiences, the students became aware of how they interpret their experiences; they learned they could 'open up their thinking to entertain alternative ways of interpreting experience and create new possibilities for action, including changing institutional practices.' In other words, the students learned that by stepping outside of their comfort zones and discussing their experiences, they were awakened to other possibilities, and realized they could ultimately, if diligent, make a difference in their own lives and the lives of other students. These possibilities they became aware of, may never have been seen or realized, had they not participated in this case study, outside of their normal circle.
What does this mean for us? Well, we can start by getting out more, to put it simply. You can get out of your comfort zone. Take chances and go a little out of the way to venture beyond the corner grocer! Even if all you do is shop (get a hair cut, stop for coffee) at a different time - one that is not as convenient - you may find a whole new set of faces, products, possibilities and more.
Pay attention to whether the energy of the place is different. How does it feel? Once you've taken that first step, you can begin to take many more steps. Go crazy! Have fun! If, for some reason, your experience is not as positive as you hoped, remember - it's all in how you interpret your experience, rather than the experience itself. What can you take away with you from that experience? As you take chances and extend your circle beyond your borders, you'll be amazed at the world as it unfolds in front of you. Copyright (c) 2007 Lisa Jey Davis.
Book Speaking Engagements Lisa Jey Davis