Does telling people your life story or experiences as a TCK really make it easier for others to understand you? I feel that people end up making more judgments based off our experiences understanding less because of their categorizations as opposed to understanding more. Perceiving me as a rich kid or braggart for talking about growing up overseas and international schools, moving around a lot–different things have different meanings to different people. What has happened to us that makes us Third Culture Kids is not easy to understand to those who haven’t had the same experiences.
People are stubbornly attached to their own comfort zone and categorizations, and the moment you go beyond what is in their frame of reference (or dare say challenge it), it’s like ripping a child from the womb. Whatever information you give them that you think might help to understand you better is more often than not going to be filtered by their own frame of reference before they pass their judgments. And people judge harshly, which we all know–because we ourselves do it just as harshly to others as well.
Put simply: it is very seldom that we “grok” one another. Grokking is a concept used by Robert Heinlein from his book Stranger in a Strange Land, which refers to a greater knowing and understanding profoundly and intuitively, that your understanding of what someone else is teaching, saying, or sharing is synchronized so well that you share the same reality instead of going through the filters of personal interpretation. That is what it means to grok someone or something.
So then, why do we feel the frustration building up inside us when they don’t grok what we are saying to explain our experiences? It’s not just a TCK’s issue, but a human interaction and communication issue as well. What do we do then if we are aware that we will not be grokked by everybody, nor will we grok everyone else?
One approach I am a fan of is compassion. It takes a great deal of maturity to do this, which comes from the right attitude. Accept that others will not always grok you, but because of your ability to rise above that, you do your best to grok them and appreciate what you do have that allows you to see what they do not. You’ll be a lot happier this way when you don’t go around feeling entitled to acceptance and understanding by others and that you should be treated as higher and mightier for being a world traveler.
The other approach is to ignore them. Do we really need to explain to everyone our life stories? In Daoist teachings, they believe that words highlight reality, not define or describe it, much like we should focus on the moon, not the finger pointing to it. However, we can gaze into a pond to see the moon itself just as easily as staring right at the moon, also a teaching from the Daoists. In that respect, people take us as we are at the moment, not where we came from or what we tell them.
Take a look at this Calvin and Hobbes comic:
What are some of the ways people can perceive us? Well, when I tell people I grew up in Thailand, China, the Philippines and America, the common response is “Stuck-up, arrogant rich kid trying to show off.” When I follow the attitude a fellow TCK took after I explained to her that she appears as boastful and elitist for talking so openly and freely about her life experiences riding elephants, her attitude showed that she probably won’t be making many friends with non-TCKs:
“I will NEVER hide the fact I’m a TCK! I’m proud of it, and if nobody can appreciate or understand my life riding on elephants, driving through oil fields, or living amongst terrorists, I don’t need them!”
In that respect, she reinforces the notion that she is stuck-up and arrogant when she elevates herself above others and rejects them for not being able to understand her.
So who do you want to be? An individual of the moment or stuck in the past hung up on your experiences? Living in the moment or wondering why you’re so unhappy right now? Seizing the day and having more fun than everyone else, planning your goals and ambitions, or wondering where the next destination will be?
Being dragged around the world should teach you how to adapt and plan out your life instead of letting your parents or life circumstances control you. And if it doesn’t, that’s a life lesson to work on. Here’s a hint about it though: it never ends. Keep striving to go higher, and you just may reach beyond the stars.