Things I learned in Burundi- #874 – People Are Complicated

I’ve learned so much living here for the past 6.5 years, that it’s hard to even recall it all. So I won’t try, instead, I’ll highlight just a few things that have become more clear to me through my experiences here.

People Are Complicated.

This is one of those “of course we know it” things – which become more apparent with certain experiences.

Generally speaking, we love to categorize people, to assign them tags, roles, groups. On one level we have to – for survival. Our brain can only take in and process so much information at a time, so having categories such as “friend or foe” are very helpful.

Most of the time we have some category for “bad guy” we put people into when they’ve crossed a predetermined threshold. At least for me, my brain doesn’t slot people into that group until they’ve done something ‘really bad.’ Just to be very clear – this list is not things that I think are truly wrong or not wrong – but what I realize is a hierarchy that exists in my mind:

  • dishonest to your spouse about your real location – real bad guy
  • dishonest to tax authorities about your real location- bad guy
  • dishonest to Netflix about your real location – meh
  • use your business position to help family – errr
  • use your government position to help family …..eeeesh
  • lie to my face about not doing your job – real bad
  • lie to your kids about Santa – whatever
  • lie about having read and accepted Terms and Conditions… doesn’t even register

What has become painfully clear to me, is how incredibly culturally dependant this categorization is. Something almost everyone in my passport-country culture would agree is “real bad” may not be somewhere else.

We see marital unfaithfulness as a brutal betrayal. What if a culture doesn’t view marriage as a love-based union where two people have incredible feelings for each other, but more of a culturally mandated arrangement that allows financial security and social standing? What then is the gravity of that action?

I’ve had to struggle with issues where people commit some act that in my mind clearly, immediately puts them in the ‘bad people’ category. Then they turn and do something that I would think is completely unimaginable for such a person.

I realized how much dissonance this creates in my heart, as I try to sort it out.
“Surely this very kind thing they did…must be motivated by some long-term evil….because they’re a ‘bad person because of what they did before”

For example, what is your honest thought when you look at the picture below:

See the source image

For me, If I’m totally honest, there are thoughts like “I bet he lured that cute little deer in with food so he could grab it and kill it with his bare hands.”

This is such a hard picture to look at, as it’s hard to imagine Adolf Hitler ever did even one kind act in his life.

However…… people are complicated.

I do many things that have wronged people, hurt people, offended people in ways that I’m know have caused them to write me off as a ‘bad guy.’

So what’s the point?

I suppose it’s that – surprise, surprise – people are complicated.

Being immersed in a culture whose values often are drastically different from my own has caused me to question the knee-jerk categorization I make of people.

Perhaps I need to try out this brand new idea that I just thought of all by myself:

treat others the way I’d want them to treat me.