I once spent two years in a country that was foreign to me. While I was there I encountered a bizarre example of misinformation several times, where the locals were convinced that the United States of America had fifty-two states.

Whenever I encountered this belief I tried to convince them that there were still only fifty states, but to no avail. I mentioned that there were several territories that were also a part of the USA, and that perhaps they had been hearing about a couple of those? They insisted not, it was two full-fledged states had just recently been added, and perhaps I hadn’t heard about it yet. I said that two states were added a few decades ago (Alaska and Hawaii), bringing it from forty-eight to fifty, perhaps they had heard about that and thought it was a recent event? They said no, they were sure. It was fifty before, plus two more, now fifty-two.

In the end it didn’t matter very much. I don’t feel personally offended if someone thinks there are two more states to my country than there actually are. Eventually I just stopped discussing the matter altogether.

It was a curious lesson in human nature, though. It did not matter that I was a native of the United States of America, a citizen that had been educated in its history and geography for years, and was being kept abreast of current events. For though I was a local in the USA, in this land I was the foreigner, and thus my perspective was suspect. In a case of he-said-she-said, we tend to side with the individual that we are personally closer to, regardless of whether their stance is as well-founded as the other.

And I have no delusions about the fact that my own opinions and beliefs are also molded by my culture’s biases. I am sure there are many things that I take as a matter of fact, which are absolutely wrong. In fact, I have a personal example of how I came to be corrected in one of those misconceptions just a few years ago. I’ll share that, and the lessons that I learned from it, tomorrow.

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