Tradition Colors Perception

When we got our hot beverages this morning, my girlfriend asked whether the tiny glass of water that came as a side was for drinking. “Haha! Of course!” I said. “What else could it be for?” “Well, when I went to Hong Kong, they gave a glass of water with each cup of tea. I downed the glass because I was so thirsty, and the waiter was horrified. He told me that water was only for rinsing the cup. So now, I thought I’d better ask!”

Perspective is everything, and perception — the tool we use to assemble our perspective — is colored by tradition. Present the exact same situation to two people separated by a few thousand miles, and you might get two very different interpretations.

To someone raised in Europe, a glass of water next to a hot drink will always mean, “Enjoy after consuming your beverage.” Fly 9,000 kilometers to the east, and almost everyone you meet will assume that very same water is good for little more than washing out their cup before they use it.

Everyone relies on tradition. We can’t not be shaped by our past and the pasts of those who surround us. Often, tradition is both wonderful and helpful — but sometimes, it gets in the way. Every now and then, look at the plate or person in front of you and ask: “Is this really the thing I think I am seeing? Or might I be looking at something different entirely?”

Sometimes, the water next to your cappuccino is for drinking, and sometimes, it’s only a means for cleaning your cup. You needn’t expect a new interpretation each time you’re served with a coffee, but imagining new meanings for known situations from time to time will keep your mind open for moments when a closed one won’t do.