Do you ever wonder how non-TCKs and TCKs get along much less have lasting relationships? Do you find yourself jealous and slightly cynical of those who seem to have close friendships and wonder how they got there? Do you question how TCKs in relationship with non-TCKs have managed to reconcile the different worldviews and ways of thinking? I live in both worlds: a TCK married to a monocultural man from Colorado, and raised four children, all born in this beautiful state. You might benefit from hearing how I have learned to juggle both ways of thinking, as a mom and a wife. Perhaps you will glean something from my experiences and observations and how my life has become richer for it.
My basic premise is that if we as TCKs approach the world looking at how much we have in common rather than how much we differ, I think we will go a long way in resolving some of our relational difficulties. We will see that everyone longs to be heard, understood, be in relationship, have friendships and feel significant. With that in mind then, as we begin looking for opportunities to connect on a level that is common to us all, we will find the world a richer place.
Many TCKs express a longing to connect, but feel they fail miserably, stating fears of rejection and abandonment. In the following paragraphs, let us look at some practical ways to implement the ideas of connection, friendship, and relationship.
When we instantly judge someone because we don’t like their narrow-mindedness or because they do not appreciate how big the world is and think only of their own petty interests, we create an instant barrier and cease to be open minded ourselves. Conversely, when we firmly and stubbornly believe that no one can possibly understand us, we have already created a situation that precludes anyone entering into our world.
At one point, I came to realize that to the degree I believed no one would be interested in my life they would fulfill that belief. I also thought it was up to others to make the first move, to listen to me. I became passive in my relationships instead of looking for opportunities to deepen the friendship, no doubt due to the pain of frequent moves and many losses. Then when I felt lonely, I could blame others instead of looking to where I needed to change.
What I failed to recognize was that while they might have been curious about me, I might also be intimidating to them. If I wanted a friend, I was in their territory, and like a good TCK, I needed to learn their culture, find out what was important to them, and make a concerted effort to find common ground. With that as my guiding principle, I would inevitably run into those who also were interested, curious and longing to hear what it was like to live a different life than the one they had always known. This was a good basis for a lasting friendship to develop. Friendship means just that: a sharing of stories and experiences, finding and sometimes creating common ground, learning to live with our differences and enjoying life together.
There are other times when we make unfair comparisons. A case in point: I had a conversation recently with a young woman who had gone on a short-term mission trip to Brazil. She was in a chiropractic office getting an adjustment, and when she heard that I had grown up in that country, she immediately began to tell me how much she loved the Brazilians, how authentic and amazing they were, and how fake and superficial Americans were. Initially I agreed with her. What TCK doesn’t frequently have those feelings when comparing other nations to America? Then I began reflecting on her evaluation. She was comparing mission work in a more impoverished and needy population in Brazil to affluent America. The irony is that she was sitting in a chiropractic office, getting an adjustment that no one in that slum could possibly imagine. Additionally, I wanted to ask her who had supported her mission trip. Was it those same “selfish Americans, only interested in their tan and the latest style”? How ironic if true. In the end, she was the one who was judging people on their outward appearance and choices, without really taking the time to understand them as individuals. Wasn’t that her core complaint–superficiality?
I think often TCKs complain at Americans’ superficiality without really getting to know them as individuals. I know I did. I compared my global lifestyle to what I perceived as their dull, shallow way of thinking. On the one hand, it’s hard not to make those comparisons and complain, especially when Americans can present us with many opportunities to object to their way of thinking! At the same time, I have discovered friendships here in America that are deep, meaningful and rich. It took some time to develop those friendships. First, I had to learn to lay aside my own prejudices, my own knee jerk assumptions and arrogant reactions in order to listen to their hopes and dreams. I discovered that many had the same aspirations I did: connection, significance and hope for the future.
I once had an “aha” moment into how a worldview can affect the way we treat others when I was in grad school. My colleagues and I, all in our middle ages, were in the same classes as those fresh out of college. We had life experience, knowledge and wisdom that only age can bring. We had raised our children, some of whom were the same age as our classmates. It was easy to disparage and put down the younger generation as really not “getting it”, not “understanding” things, “immature”. Wanting to be accepted by my peers, I initially went along with that mindset. Then I overheard a young woman complain about how she was viewed, and I suddenly realized how narrow and petty we must all sound; to them, we were rigid and judgmental. I determined from that point on to view all my classmates equally. The younger generation had life experiences that were different from mine and we had something to offer each other. Some of my richest experiences grew out of mentoring some of those young women; I learned from them as they learned from me.
When we as TCKs determine to approach life with the worldview that everyone has something to contribute to our knowledge and growth, no matter how aggravating they may seem to us, we will find the journey on this earth much more pleasant and far less isolating.
About Judy Hansen
Judy grew up in Brazil, US and Portugal. She is intrigued by all cultures and their influence on the individual. She believes that culture can be defined as a way of thinking, behaving or working, and she would include religious beliefs in that definition.
As a counselor, she specializes in helping others navigate changes of all kinds, including new relationships, jobs, cities or countries. To find out more about Judy, check out her website at www.powerforlivingtherapy.com.