I had a surprising experience the other day.
Before you read about that, though, you should know this.
In most of the places I go, I tend to be surrounded by people like me – people who are either urban professionals or suburban-family-types (I may or may not qualify for either, but I could pass as both) – at any rate, the defining characteristic might be middle-class and middle-American (whatever that really means). By and large we speak with the same accent, we are familiar with the same cultural references, and we can come to understand the other's perspective even if we have different political views.
So when I go to a coffee shop, particularly the ubiquitous green one with the trademark goddess on the awning, I expect a certain atmosphere. I expect that people will be typing on laptop computers (much as I am as I write this). If people are talking to one another, I expect volumes and tones hushed to such a level that I could only eavesdrop on the table immediately adjacent to me, or that I could dismiss as white noise. I expect most people to not make eye contact, and for the baristas to only be friendly enough to get my drink order right.
Then, the other day when I went into a coffee shop I hadn't been to before, I was surprised by a little bit of culture shock … which was really pleasant.
To a person, the staff seemed genuinely joyful. I first noticed this when I ordered.
But then I watched as I sat there, and they had the same attitude with each customer, and with each other when there was no one ordering.
The mix of people who came in for coffee was almost as diverse as you'll see in the Denver metro area. In the space of about 15 minutes, I heard Spanish and French and Arabic. I heard (what I believe is) Urdu and I heard heavily-accented English. I saw about eight different varieties of skin tone. And the buzz of conversation was much more lively (and felt more fully alive) than what I'm accustomed to.
It was truly a joyful coffee experience for me.
It seems to be the case that if there's one person in a groups who's different, our tendency is to focus on that difference. And if there is a great deal of diversity in a group, we tend to look for and discover what we have in common.
I like the second option better.
I wonder how our outlook on the world would change is we more frequently and more intentionally surrounded ourselves with people who are different from us.