Polarization or the contrasts of various perspectives seems to be themes that reappear in the readings these days. Daniel Kahneman’s widely cited, influential book Thinking, Fast and Slow, is yet another example. His descriptions of contrasting decision-making approaches that influence one’s biases. He highlights the variety of seemly logical processes that a person or institution use to come to erroneous conclusions. This work has value across many fields including psychology but could also be relevant in politics, media, business, really anywhere people are attempting to make unbiased decisions or engage in accurate research. For me Kahneman’s writing is like navigating a statistics textbook, and it was easy for me to get bogged down. That being said it reminded me of a more technical version of Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong (unfortunately I am on the road and do not have access to the book). As I remember her book also covered a wide range of biases and there influences but for me, she was an easier read.
My reflections on Thinking Fast and Slow led me to the tricks of the mind that has manifested itself in the lives of migrants, foreign workers, and people who were workers behind the Iron Curtain. In my observation, and or personal experiences, all three of these groups are confront with the disconnect between what they remember, and the actual experience. My experiences with migrants started with my grandmother. She came to the US as a twenty-one-year-old escaping the responsibilities of the eldest child in a large family. From what she told me; she was given a legitimate way out by going to Seattle to assist an aunt who lived there. The United States was an opportunity to a life that was not possible in the little village in near the Artic Circle in Sweden. Like many migrants she attempted to deal with the cultural differences by integrating into the dominate US culture through acquiring the language, joining clubs, associating with others from the homeland. All the while there remained this nostalgic memory or remembering of the “home”. This disconnect between the memories and the experiences becomes so strong that many migrants return “home”. This is exactly what my grandparents did when my dad was about fourteen. I have observed this same behavior with many Polish people who have either come to the US for school, work, or other reasons. There is a need to somehow resolve the tension between what they remember of the homeland and the actual experiences that led them to migrate in the first place. The fact that I am American tells you that my grandparents adventure to the homeland resulted in them returning to the US. It took them six months of experiences that their nostalgic memories did not reflect the home they were remembering. The new experiences may have confirmed the reasons they left in the first place; I cannot say for sure. But the “homeland” they experienced no longer represented the place they desired to live. I have seen this with many Poles as well. The interesting thing is that just because they returned it does not mean that the divide between what was remembered, and the experiences was resolved or that there was peace. For my grandmother it was not until I took her to Sweden when she was in her late 80s did, she finally fully see and refer to the US as her home.
For myself, as a long-time foreign worker who is looking at a longer stay in the US than I have done in twenty years. I am constantly being confronted with how I remember “home” to be like and the actual experiences of my days. This includes not only the society at large but friends, daily activities, and church life. Those things I once longed for have disappointed me. Last year it could be attributed to the Covid 19 influences but this time it has just as much to do with me, my thinking, world view, values, and generally very different lifestyle.
Kahneman’s views on remembering and experiencing are also manifest in an unexpected way in those individuals who worked manual jobs during communist time behind the Iron Curtain. These were individuals less likely to have their lives restricted by dictatorial mandates of the government. They went to work, raised their families and enjoyed the simple life. The freedom and opportunities that the fall of communism brought made their world more unstable and insecure. The majority of these individuals still long for the old days. They had money in their pocket, even though there was not much to purchase. And the good stuff like coffee, fuel, chocolate, sugar, meat, etc. were all rationed. These individuals felt in control. Contrasting the experiences of the dissidents, or Christians who were persecuted, in prisoned, and were prevented from acquiring the jobs, education, and travel they desired.
It is so interesting that while all these people experienced the same things, their perceptions or memories are very different. Even now, I am technically on vacation with a couple of friends. I think they are having a fantastic time. I on the other hand, am struggling to relate to the things they find enjoyable. I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me, preventing me from relating or being able to see the pleasure in the things my friends are.