Somewhere along the line, someone gave me a book of New York Times crossword puzzles from the 1970s. It, in turn, has given me culture shock. Take this clue:
114 Kin of N.Y.S.E. and Amex
First, you have to realize that this Amex does not refer to American Express, but to the American Stock Exchange, which always made the nightly news in the 1970s but doesn’t even exist today. Then you have to discard the first thing that comes to mind—NASDAQ—because NASDAQ had just started in 1971 and was not a major player at the time. The answer? OTC, as in over-the-counter trading.
Examples of this abound. The answers to some clues are trendy words that no one uses anymore. The whole style of Times crosswords—the clues they use, the way they integrate themes—was different back then. There’s an implicit assumption that most puzzle solvers had learned at least some Latin.
In other words, working these puzzles requires a thoroughgoing mindshift back to the seventies. If you want to understand these puzzles, you have to enter the creator’s world.
Right there is your window on some of the hardest work in dialogue.
It’s one thing to dialogue within our frameworks; it’s quite another to sit down with someone from a different framework entirely. I can talk with my ex-Marine neighbor about the Afghan war and know that, even if we disagree on policy, we can pretty much grasp each other’s mindsets because we share so much: a common language, cultural background, socioeconomic status, etc. If I’m talking with a refugee from Vietnam, all that goes out the window. The work becomes much more difficult.
If I want to understand her, I have to enter her world.
Doing so might help us connect much more effectively with people who are very different from us. What makes this essential today is that most of the world is very different from us, and we come into contact with those people more and more. As a result, a straight, white, middle-class, Christian framework—which would have served me famously in the 1950s—will not get me far in understanding Muslims building an Islamic center near Ground Zero, or gay Americans who fear violence from anti-gay activists, or the struggles of low-income people to make ends meet.
By making the mindshift, we can connect with our wonderfully diverse neighbors. By connecting, we lay the foundation for dialogue. With that foundation in place, we have a way forward when the inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings arise. The difficult work is more than worth the effort.
Have you ever tried talking with someone from a very different background or point of view? Were you able to make the mindshift? Your stories can help all of us, so feel free to share them here.
Note: I’ll be hosting my family for a reunion in a few days, so there’ll be no post next week. Watch this space around September 3 for the next post.