I can confidently say I’ve learned a lot of things since I began college just over two years ago. I’ve learned about business practices and journalism and — begrudgingly, of course — microeconomics.
But I’ve gained more than just academic knowledge while at Lehigh. I’ve gained people knowledge.
My mom always tells me, “Never make judgments about someone else’s family or home life, because you never know what goes on behind closed doors.”
At first I didn’t get it, but my experiences at Lehigh have made it clearer.
When you first arrive at orientation freshman year, you’re bombarded with new everything— people, places and thoughts.
Icebreakers. Meant to “break the ice” among you and your new peers, these small group activities often require students to describe themselves with an adjective starting with the same letter as their name (Dedicated Danielle is my go-to,) or pair up with another student and talk about their hometowns.
One icebreaker in particular has made more of an impact on me than I would have ever imagined. It’s called “Two Truths and a Lie.” If you’re not familiar, each person writes three statements about him or herself. Two of them must be true and one must be a lie.
- I have a 10-year old aunt and a 13-year old uncle.
- I traveled to five countries last summer.
- I will be 21 years older than my sister.
No. 2 is my lie. Though it seems kind of unbelievable, my aunt and uncle are just 10 and 13 years old, respectively, and my father is expecting another daughter just after my 21st birthday in April. I meet new people every day whose first reaction is to call my family “weird.”
People are shocked when I say my mom is 40-something years older than two of her siblings. They laugh and roll their eyes when I say my grandmother and step-grandmother are best friends. I’ve been told by numerous people to write a book.
But I’m not that special. I’m the new normal.
Millions of people watch “Modern Family” and don’t question each of the examples of blended families portrayed in the TV show. The typical American family is changing every day, but our first reaction when we experience it in real life is still to deem it weird.
The New York Times published a study in 2013 examining how American family dynamics have changed over the last century. In general, the report says “families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.”
Our country fosters a rapidly growing number of households unlike the traditional nuclear family. More than ever, you find families with a single parent, parents of the same sex and two parents with full-time jobs, to name just a few “weird” situations like mine.
And there’s more to it than just family composition. Our nation is comprised of individuals of varying socioeconomic statuses, religions, cultures and ideas.
Unfortunately, at Lehigh, it often seems as though we are trapped in a bubble. Some people choose to ignore the fact that we are not all the same. However, it’s certainly the opposite. Though many students may come from the same geographic area, it doesn’t ensure that they all have encountered the same hardships or experienced identical family lifestyles.
We must look beyond superficial depictions of what is considered a “normal” Lehigh student and recognize that we all contribute to the reasons our society has grown and changed.
There is nothing wrong with claiming ignorance as long as you’re willing to learn about people, families and cultures unlike your own. Be cautious of your assumptions, because you can never be sure of another person’s history until you take the time to ask. I urge you to ask more questions of your friends and peers, of those who appear to be like you and those with whom you’d expect to have nothing in common.
I’m not suggesting that playing icebreakers will give you total insight into another person’s life and history, but it does give you the opportunity to ask new people how they are different and explain your own unique history, as well. The next time you meet someone new, remember that everyone has two truths and a lie to offer.