Exposure can change us.
If you are exposed to a group that is smiling and laughing, you are more inclined to smile and laugh.
Lack of exposure to our large and fascinating world is, by definition, limiting, making a person narrower. Constricted. Bound. Trapped. The opposite of those words is free. A friend, Julie Pennington Russell, a Baptist minister, once told me, “I’ve been bound and I’ve been free, and I like free much better.” Lack of contact with anything or anybody other than the already familiar is restrictive of personal growth. That is why we go to school. In the sixth grade we are exposed to ideas that we knew nothing about in the third grade.
One of my favorite jokes is about the student who learned her “times tables” up through twelve. When her granddad asked her what 13 times 13 equaled, she said, “Oh, Grandpa, there’s no such thing.”
Exposure via travel, going to other places, visiting other cultures and hearing other ideas can also change a person.
We don’t know what we have never been exposed to.
I attended a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast a year ago. I visited briefly with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We made casual conversation until she said, conspiratorially, “You know, we won’t be able to gather like this soon.” I did not understand what she was saying. She clarified, “Americans won’t be able to meet to pray like this.”
“Are you serious?” I asked. She was. I suspect she doesn’t get out much, that she hears only to one worldview on her radio and at her church. She lives within a culture of fear of the unknown.
America is freer than it has ever been. Of course, freedom in the 21st century is not just for educated white Protestants. America insures freedom nowadays for blacks, women, Muslims, Hispanics, Hindus and for every other citizen, including (but no longer limited to) educated white Protestants. We need to get out of our narrow world and meet some people who don’t look or think the same as we do. We live in a big, beautiful, wonderful and diverse world.
Some people are taught just the opposite—that it is a scary and hostile world.
Recently, I read a book about Mormon Fundamentalism, The Witness Wore Read, by Rebecca Musser. Since the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) members of her world lived in a literal compound, a walled camp, they knew little to nothing about the outside world—except what they had been taught since birth. When 12-16 year old girls were being forced to marry older men with 30 and more wives, the young brides did not have the words to describe their experience. When arrests began to be made of these “human traffickers,” the young girls were asked if they had sex with these older men. They answered “No.” Eventually, the officers discovered the girls knew the word “sex” only as something harlots did. Even though these girls already had babies at age 15, they claimed they had never had sex. When the officers learned the insider terminology, “marital relations” and “heavenly unions,” they got a different answer: “Yes. “ Other euphemisms within the FLDS, such as “Celestial Marriage,” were used to disguise criminal sexual conduct against minors.
Exposure to other worlds inevitably stretches us. “Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know,” expresses the anxieties of billions of people.
Believing that America is on the verge of losing its freedom of assembly and its freedom of religion is paranoia and naiveté born of very limited experience.
Get out. Travel. Listen. Learn. Pay attention. Expose yourself to other points of view. Your life will be enriched, and we will live in a healthier, wiser and more humane culture.