I recently read an article briefly talking about the difference in experience of the world between children and adults. The article postulated that adults don’t so much experience what is going on around us as much as we do predict what is going on around us. We have been through similar situations before and as a time saving mechanism our brains looks for patterns, determine what patterns our present situations fit into, and lead us to respond in a manner that fit those patterns.
Predicting what is going to happen is a very useful tool. It enables us to see patterns of danger and opportunity and sets us up to respond to such opportunities when they arrive. Driving is based off this. If I had to think through and experience everything that is happening around me when I drive then being on the road would be one long, continuous wreck. Instead, my brain kicks into pattern recognition and I can simply drive and enjoy the environment around me. Remember how nervous you were when you first started to drive and didn’t have the wealth of similar experiences for you brain to recognize patterns from?
Of course, this great gift of pattern recognition and the predictive behavior that comes from it often keeps us from experiencing the wonder that is around us.
Children, especially young children, on the other hand are constantly experiencing wonder in the world around them and the author suggested this is because they often don’t have previous patterns or experience with what they are encountering and thus don’t responded to it based on predictive behavior. They respond in wonder and awareness because they are experiencing whatever is happening for the first time. Once they have encountered enough similar situations they will begin to recognize patterns and move from experiencing wonder to predicting the event.
This experiencing versus predicting phenomenon is why we tend to have such a sense of wonder when we travel. We are experiencing new things that we are not capable of predicting. Everything is new and when everything is new your mind can’t find the pattern and has to stop being a predicting machine. One of the great things about being a tourist in a town is that you have the freedom to ask questions concerning all that is going on around you. You aren’t expected to know anything because you are a tourist, This also means that you are free to get excited about everything that is different . This allows you to experience and enjoy what is going on around you. It isn’t that this new place is so much better than what you are used to, but is instead the fact that it isn’t what you are used to it that leads to you and I enjoying it so much.
One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, has the motto “always read the plaques”. Jeff T, my friend and manager in chaplaincy, likes to tell those he manages to “walk slowly through the people”. Both of these are great statements to actually be aware of what is around us and trying to make sure that we experience rather than just predicting what is happening around us. When I remember to do either of these statement I moved from thinking that I know everything that is going to happen, to just experiencing what is happening.
This is why I titled this post “Seeing as a Tourist”. I believe tourists often get a bad rap. It is not uncommon to hear someone going on a trip and wanting to avoid looking or acting like a tourist. I have a relative who goes on trips and desperately wants to look like a native. I think this is mainly the fear of standing out as someone who doesn’t know what is going on. Yet tourists get to respond in joy and wonder to what is different exactly because it is different to them. One of our family’s favorite things to do when we go to a new spot is go to a grocery store. It is amazing how different something so familiar can be. When we went to France last year we stayed in AirBnB’s and thus got to cook some of our meals. Therefore, we went to grocery stores to buy supplies. So much was incredibly different, from the products to the way you actually did your shopping. It made going to the grocery store an experience of wonder. Seriously I had a goofy smile on my face most of the time I was in the store. Tourist see things as new and therefore experience it rather than predicting it.
This is something that is good to do in our normal, boring lives. To put ourselves in situations where we have to experience rather than predict. To force ourselves to see our lives and our homes as a tourist would see them. To find the incredible stuff that we have blindly walked and driven by. Our God created a world that is full of wonder if we can only experience it. But we walk blindly past so much of it during our normal daily lives.
Here are two things that I think are wondrous in our area that many people walk or drive by. Did you know that there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house right off of Post Road (technically it is Springville Drive but you can see it from Post when you drive by)? Or that you could become a member of the 45-90 Club by visiting a site 50 miles North of us (one of only 4 such sites in the world and one of only 2 on land). There are amazing experiences and things all around us if we will moved from predicting to experiencing.