Stopped by Sam's Club in Columbus this week to buy some paper for my computer printer and came home with what appears to be a cardboard box containing about 5,000 sheets, sealed inside 10 packages, wrapped in plastic.

All I really needed was a single package of about 500 sheets. For no more than I use the printer, that would have lasted me about five years.

Problem is, one package at Office Max costs about the same as three packages at Sam's, but to get the discount I had to buy 10. Now I have enough paper to last 50 years - and I am 70.

This is called a "volume discount." American brains have been trained to expect it and look for it. Buying one of anything has become nearly as unAmerican as staying seated during the National Anthem.

If we need two AAA batteries for our TV remote, we buy a sealed package of ten batteries. After cutting our hands prying open the plastic package, we put two batteries in the remote and stick the remaining eight in a drawer. Of course, the next time we need another AAA battery we can't remember where we put the leftovers. So, we buy 10 more.

Such is life in "the land of plenty." When the supply is endless, and the demand has no urgency, the bargains just keep coming - as long as we are willing to buy in bulk.

I learned in my 20s, however, that this American mindset about discounts for volume is not a universal rule.

Shortly after my wife and I arrived in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1970, on a 3-year assignment as technical workers for the United Methodist Church, I went to the open-air market place to buy some rice. Trying out my best, broken Krio language skills, I asked the man seated behind a huge burlap bag of rice how much he charged.

Holding up a small, tin can, that at some point likely contained tomato sauce, he said the rice was 10 cents per can. I told him I wanted to buy 20 cans and asked how much that would be. All of the Sierra Leoneans in line for the rice were buying just one or two cups for that day's meals. Since I was a rich American and could afford more, I expected to be rewarded with a better price.

The seller, however, had a different idea. He replied that 20 cups would cost me (converted to the local currency) $2.20 - 10 percent more than if I only had purchased a single cup.

I protested - assuming the man was just trying to con the foreigner. Later, I learned that it wasn't about me, it was about supply. The logic in a world where rice was scarce and demand was high was that anyone wanting to buy more than "his share" had to pay a premium for his hoarding.

Said more bluntly, a price had to be paid by anyone selfish enough to store rice in his cupboard while his neighbors were going hungry.

It was a good lesson about the cultural assumptions we carry around in our heads, thinking they are "universal truths." We very often determine what we believe based solely on the conditions in which we were raised - from both the advantages and the disadvantages life has given us.

Whether the subject is the price of rice or the bigger international (even domestic) issues of our day, we need to understand rather than condemn our differences.

People are just people - more alike than different at their core - regardless of their color, religion or cultural assumptions. We need to resist the temptation to judge and condemn others based solely on the "truths and common sense" we share comfortably with our friends or have been passed down to us by grandma.