Changing Perceptions

I have always said that I wished I was the same age as the young people of today. I say this not because of any fear of my rapidly advancing years. I say it because, if you listen to today’s youth, they think they know everything, whilst I recognise that there is so much more to learn.

I have spoken before about the present-day tendency to invoke ‘cancel culture’ if someone has a different view rather than entering real debate. I read now of universities that campaign to remove people with opposing views whereas in my time the debate of opposing views often led to new realisations.

This week two things occurred that renewed my belief that debate and being open to learning new things are the necessary building blocks to growing as human beings. Interestingly, they both happened over meals.

The first happened on Wednesday when we were joined for lunch by a couple that we had not seen for some time because of the pandemic. In no time at all, we were locked in debate over so many issues. We were able to challenge each other, to have our own positions listened to, and to learn from each other.

What became clear was that, far from generating conflict, our debate allowed us to see things from more than one perspective and enhance our knowledge on the subjects we debated. We didn’t always agree on everything, but we always allowed for the other person to have their own opinion. Far from cancelling, we rekindled one of the reasons we enjoyed each other’s company before lockdown and made sure we met again soon.

The second meal was on Friday evening and one where a dinner with friends became a wonderful learning experience and one that I was so pleased changed my perceptions.

It should be noted that I spent over 60 years living in the UK and Indian restaurants were where you were guaranteed of a meal when the bars closed after a heavy night’s drinking. They were also allowed to serve beer that enabled you to carry on drinking. So Indian restaurants were thought of as place where you would go for a curry, a beer and some of those giant Indian crisps with mango chutney.

Last night it was a delight to have my preconceptions totally overturned. This was less a meal and more an education on the history of Indian food. Here the chef had researched Indian cooking going back 3000 years. While no recipes from the past existed, he could discover the ingredients and create dishes using them.

Each dish was delivered to the table individually so that all flavours of the dish could be experienced and so that each dish was served at the perfect temperature. The history and the details of the dish were explained by the chef, and then a gap before the next dish appeared.

This was not the overly hot curry and cheap rice of the late-night curry house near the English pub. This was fine dining that would rival fine dining of any genre. This was food made from the finest ingredients where the Indian cooking was designed to allow you to experience all the flavours delivered in exquisite presentation.

So, 2023 has started well for me. I have reinforced my belief in healthy debate and have allowed me to learn so much more than I thought I knew about Indian food and Indian history.

Most interestingly, my learning was generated over a restaurant table. It reminded me of my days in university where we would sit for hours and debate issues in the coffee bar around the corner. These debates taught us that we didn’t know everything, but they also added to our knowledge for surviving the future. Importantly, it gave us a thirst for more learning.

Solving today’s problems requires learning, debate, and a willingness to see things from various perspectives. It requires one to interact with other views and not to dismiss those that don’t see things from the same perspective. It requires one to be open to being challenged on their perceptions and to be brave enough to change. It requires individual thought rather than following the masses.

I said at the start that I wish I was at that young age that knew everything. That is not true. I much prefer to be at an age where I realise that I don’t know everything, but that there is so much more that I can learn.

I will finish with another quote about perception. ‘When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.’

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