“Where are you from?”
That’s a common question I dread being asked as I never know how to answer it. Do I say where I was born, or my two nationalities? Or should I mention all of the places I’ve lived?
Due to my dad’s job, my family and I moved approximately every three years of my life. From Japan to Northern California, Hawaii, back to Japan, New York, back to Northern California, Massachusetts, Southern California, then finally to Oregon. Do you understand my dilemma?
But I have to keep in mind that “place” is defined by more than one may think. It’s more than just where you live; it’s who you are, where you come from, and the communities and cultures that help define you.
While I may not always know how best to answer the question of “where are you from?” I do pride myself in having the ability to look at situations from different perspectives. Although persistently moving as a child certainly had its pros and cons, one of the most positive takeaways was having to immediately adapt to new people, personalities, cultures and systems. Whether it was as “simple” as making new friends, or as complicated as relearning algebra in a completely different way (because apparently the previous way I was taught was wrong), I had to learn at a young age how to put myself in other people’s shoes. To be able to fully acclimate, I had to fully understand where people were coming from, and why. It wasn’t about solely listening to people, it was about feeling.
This is essentially what we do in advertising. Well, good advertising that is. We have to be able to put ourselves in our audience’s shoes, dig for insights, and be able to seamlessly insert ourselves and retell those stories in a poignant and engaging way.
It is also what one of our clients, the Oregon Health Authority, strives to do through their Place Matters Oregon (PMO) initiative. They seek to foster conversations about how place influences our individual and collective health, and illustrate how our communities don’t share the same access to physical health. And yet, most Oregonians don’t see that. They see all the bountiful rivers, beaches and mountains that our state has to offer, but not the systemic issues that are driving the rise in chronic disease. The only way to get the audience to see their state through a new lens, is to tell the stories of place from different perspectives in a compelling way.
I wonder what our world would be like if everyone had to move approximately every three years of their life. Although the world would likely be more hectic, might our world also be a happier, more welcoming and empathetic place? Who knows. But I will leave you with the following proverb, in hopes that these words might entice you to begin to do some walking: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”