"The eye can only see what the mind knows," said the young Indian doctor. She was preparing us for a visit to a rural village not far from Aligarh where we were going to visit in homes together with residents from the Aligarh Muslim University School of Medicine. Her point was that it was sometimes difficult to convince poor people in the rural areas to take their medications or to practice good hygiene.
She encouraged us to make our visit and to ask whatever questions we wanted to ask. Destiny was my partner for the morning and our resident took us into a concrete block home with a floor made from packed cow manure. Flies buzzed around our heads as we settled into some plastic chairs. Our hosts were a woman and her three daughters together with a couple of neighbors who had stopped by.
I assumed we would learn in the conversation about how much their lives were different from ours . . . but I was wrong. We discovered that the family enjoys life in the small village they live in. The community is close and folks take care of each other. Our host mentioned that one of her daughters had passed away recently and it was clear she was still grieving the loss. We learned they go to the Hindu temple in the village twice a day (imagine if we had church that often!) and that she intended to arrange the marriage of her three daughters. She had very strong opinions that her future sons-in-law should be moral people who treated her daughters well. I certainly could identify with her concern having just given my daughter away to be married!
In the end, we spoke out of our common humanity and not out of our differences. The differences exist, yes, but we all experience joy and grief in life. We all yearn for the same things.
Where I had expected differences, I found similarity. My eyes had been opened and I had learned something I didn't expect to learn.
Indeed "the eye can only see what the mind knows" . . . . at least until we sit down together and listen to each other and find that we are far more the same than we are different.