How much do we know about the people around us, even those who may work closely with us?
Let us consider the case of two people I know in Peru.
The first is named Luis.
Here are some facts about him:
He grew up in a fishing village north of Lima in one of the poorest families in the town.
He claims to have forty-five brothers and sisters. Rarely seeing his father, he was raised by his mother.
He was a street-wise kid who sometimes got into trouble.
He was educated only to the fourth grade.
He began working full time to help support the family when he was eleven years old.
He has worked wherever he could, but mainly as a taxi driver.
With this profile you would probably say that this individual comes from a deprived background and has probably led a sad, even desperate, life.
Now lets’ consider another person.
His name is also Luis
Here are the facts about this Luis:
He is intelligent and very well mannered.
He was a great football player and a hero in his neighborhood for his accomplishments on the playing field.
At fifty-eight years old, he still works weekends as a professional referee for soccer matches. He is a respected leader among his colleagues in this profession. His knowledge of the game is profound and extends to a sophisticated analysis of the politics of soccer.
He is a friend to all, smiling, relaxed and always considerate of the needs of others.
He is reliable, honest and performs his duties with professional skill.
He is very well informed about current events in Peru and the world, and can, if asked, provide carefully considered opinions about these matters.
He is a dedicated family man with two grown children who demonstrate the values of responsibility and hard work a loving family instilled in them. Both children received excellent preparation for the professional careers that they are now pursuing with success, thanks to the encouragement of their father.
After reading the bio of the second Luis, you might guess that he came from a solid middle class family background and that he has had many advantages in his life which have contributed to his behavior and optimistic outlook.
I am sorry, but I have tricked you.
In fact, by now you might have guessed that the two men described are the same person.
It is just that the stories told about them are different.
In the first case, we might have made some assumptions based on the conditions experienced by Luis as a child. That, for example, he must have grown up resentful, depressed and desperate. And, that he continued that way the rest of his life. Alternatively, after hearing of the accomplishments and character as illustrated by the second Luis, we might have considered that he grew up with some advantages.
What it shows, I believe, is that to know someone, or a country, we need to know more than one story.
It is those other stories that give us so much more understanding.