Cultural Divides

A reader once told me that he identifies better with other blogs because they write about the “city” and I write about “rural life.” I was informed, quite clearly, that he couldn’t possibly learn anything from a blog that spoke from a “rural” perspective.

This is actually a pretty common thing. I hear all the time from city dwellers who don’t see any value in conversations about gardening because they live in an apartment. I also hear from people who live in rural areas who don’t want to hear me mention using buses and subways for transportation because it’s just not available in most areas.

Yes, let’s take a look at those cultural divides, shall we?

I can’t possibly know what it’s like to live New York or San Francisco’s enormous rent and property costs. I’m also completely clueless about sustainable living in a truly rural environment.

I don’t know what it’s like to be truly poor, living paycheck to paycheck (although that’s how I grew up). I know nothing about the challenges of managing a large income while living in a high-priced area.

I can’t conceive of what it’s like to live in an area where I’m a cultural outsider. Being a white male, I know nothing about prejudice and how it can hold you down.

Here’s the truth, though. There’s always someone with more advantages than you. There’s always someone with fewer advantages than you.

One thing’s for certain, though: you can find success no matter what your situation.

Sure, your success might be different than another person’s success.

Your success might be building up a $1,000 emergency fund from your low-income job, while someone else’s success might be paying off a $500,000 mortgage.

Your success might be finding the perfect small apartment exactly where you want it, while someone else’s success might be a big farmhouse in the country.

Your success might be an engineering career, while someone else’s success might be enough financial stability to be a stay-at-home parent.

The interesting thing is that we all use more or less the same tools to achieve that success.

A few days ago, I talked about the idea of the “financial toolbox,” that there are a handful of tools that we can use to solve any financial situation. Frugality. Increasing your income. Steady behavior. An emergency fund. Targeted savings. Automated savings. The “ten second” rule. The “thirty day” rule.

No matter where we are in life, we apply these tools for financial success. The basic principles cross every cultural, personal, and philosophical divide. I can learn how to improve my frugality from a person living on Park Avenue, from a homeless person, and from a person in a farmhouse in the country.

Sure, I can’t use every tactic thrown at me. But I’ve found time and time again that the best tactics are the ones that come from unexpected places. I actually have less to learn from my neighbor than I do from a person living a very different life.

Why? Different people see the world differently. Their lives are filled with a different perspective than your own. They grew up differently. They see the world differently.

For example, I know very few people who grew up in the financial situation that my family had when I was young. It shaped me in a lot of ways, giving me angles on life that others may not have had. However, I really have no idea what it would be like to grow up in a privileged household and what lessons those people might have learned.

Another example: for several years, I worked next to an individual who grew up in a city in South Korea and had limited ability to speak English. Over the years, we shared a lot of stories about our lives and I learned many, many things from him – new ways of looking at the world, new tactics to use in my own life, and new perspectives on spirituality (just for starters).

The best thing we can always do is share our tools and our ideas freely. It costs us nothing to share our best financial tactics, but by sharing, we encourage others to share. And if the person sharing is coming from a very different perspective, we’re bound to learn something new.

A cultural divide isn’t something to turn away from, it’s something to seek out. Sure, it’s useful to read the words of someone familiar to you, but don’t turn away from new angles that seem at first to not have anything in common with you. You might be surprised to find that there are life-changing answers there.

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