14 October 2012

Some effects of being comfortable with another

This past week, I read an article in the local newspaper (Het Parool) about research done on how emotions are interpreted from somebody whose face is completely covered except for the eyes. People were asked to look at images of women whose faces were covered by a headscarf + veil and women whose faces were fully covered by a scarf and hat. Despite the fact that the same amount of face/eyes could be seen with the two different types of head coverings, fear and anger - negative emotions - were identified most frequently with those with the very traditional Islamic headcoverings. This suggests that people's discomfort with this type of head covering very much influences how they perceive others.

The idea of how one's comfort with another affects perception was a fascinating thought, and one that deserved pondering. And more than simply pondering whether or not I felt comfortable with women fully veiled (although I do wonder whether my being female, like those who are veiled, makes me feel more comfortable in the presence of such a female).

Strangely enough, the next time being comfortable with one another came up was during a discussion of ecumenicalism. Someone mentoned a sense of discomfort with a British journalist who had come to learn more about the community here - there was a sense of distrust and even feelings of having been manipulated. Havng met the journalist myself, I was somewhat surprised, as I had had none of that reaction. But I had forgotten that I am a native English speaker and would thus be immediately somewhat comfortable with the way a Brit communicates.

As we continued the discussion on ecumenicalism, it became obvious to me that a certain level of comfort with another person's Christian tradition was helpful for being able to appreciate elements in it. Otherwise, a person will become defensive and focus on defending his/her own practices, beliefs, and traditions. Living together in community, as we do here, helps develop that sense of comfort with each other - church traditions gain faces: people with whom I live and work and pray. And as a I learn to be surprised by and appreciative of another as individual, I have come to recognize that I can also be challenged and encouraged by his/her faith and (church) tradition.

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