Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Living in Fear v. Living in Faith

My wife, Bianca, lives in a world where everyone is suspect, where you cannot trust people, and where there's danger lurking around every corner. I live in a world where you should not trust everyone, caution is common sense, but one can live and move through most days without concern about being a victim of violence or crime, as long as you follow the first two rules. Yes, we live in the same house. Such is the nature of cross cultural relationships.

First of all, a little background might be helpful. My wife, Bianca, was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, without a doubt one of the most violent cities on Earth. The latest statics I can find are from 2002 where the murder rate was 28.5 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world. Supposedly it is only rising. As a victim of Brazilian criminals myself, I can tell you that Rio is one place I do actually feel a sense of fear daily, when walking around. I have been concerned in places like Mexico and Ghana, about possible crime. After all, especially right now, Americans are targets. And I always expect that I am on someone's radar who might wish to do me harm, when I am in public places in other countries. But in Saint Louis, walking around, while I keep my eyes open, pay attention to my surroundings, limit the cash I carry, etc., I don't tend to be afraid. My car was broken into once in 7 years, and I left the back window cracked too wide. But my wife grew up in that world, where caution was a necessity. Yet she was not a victim of crime until we were robbed on the beach in 2005. And they did not rob her, just me.

My background is growing up in a small town of 45,000 people in Kansas, where we all pretty much knew everyone else. Street crime and petty theft were not common experiences of anyone I knew. Violence was a rarity in the local paper. It was a quiet place to grow up. (Too quiet, if you ask my wife, who finds small towns very boring.) But since I left Kansas, I have lived in one city after another: Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Saint Louis. Since I am 38, and I left home at 18, that means over half my life, I have lived in cities. In that time, I have been a victim of crime maybe 4 times. Identity theft, lost/stolen cell phone, car broken into twice. Outside the U.S., I have been a victim twice: pickpocket in Ghana and robbed in Brazil.

From this explanation, it is not obvious that Bianca should feel more afraid of crime than me. Though I am 13 years older than her, I have been a victim of more crimes. Yet I feel safer. Part of the reason, I suppose is my inherent desire to believe in the goodness of people. I used to live constantly expecting the best until someone proved me wrong. As our culture has changed, I have had to greatly revise such expectations. They have been tested many times. But nonetheless, I still believe most people are inherently good and not out to get me. Bianca tends to think the opposite. She doesn't trust anyone. Not even me. Although, I am working on that part.

In any case, the reason seems to be more of the cultural and environmental realities in which we grew up and learned how to face the world. For someone of Bianca's background, with people being shot at in public, killed and robbed regularly, and a general sense of lack of law and order, she grew up to be very cautious and apprehensive. Certain situations, especially, trigger natural instincts of self-protection, which I don't have, because I have a different background. For someone like me, crime was a rarity. Most people were nice, friendly, and generally not prone to harming me. So I felt safe, and tend to regard people as safe until I have reason not to. This does not mean I walk around in a foolish, dilusional daze. It just means that I start out with a more trusting attitude.

To me, I tend to live in faith in people, generally, while Bianca lives in fear. It's not that she's constantly quaking in her boots. It's more of a general expectation that people have to earn trust. They don't start out with any vested in them. This cultural clash is something that happens a lot between small town and big city dwellers, and it happens a lot between Americans and those of other cultures. In any case, it's an interesting (I think) example of how culture effects our outlook on the world -- culture clash in action.

For what it's worth...

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