The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dismiss No One: Leaving Behind Stereotyping

We live in an incredibly complicated world. Life is getting trickier each day. So, we simplify our lives in any way that we can, just to get by. It’s normal, it’s necessary, and it’s entirely human. One way we simplify is by stereotyping others, dividing everyone we meet into one little group or another so we don’t have to think too hard about what we might expect from each person. Using stereotyping, we try to predict to some degree what the future might hold and what to anticipate when dealing with different groups. Star Trek, the original 1960s TV series, was great at this. Whole species were stereotyped down to a single personality trait. Klingons were warlike, Romulans sneaky, Vulcans logical, and humans impulsive. This simplification went right on down to the individual level too. A guy who showed up in a red shirt who you’d never seen before on the show and who was a member of the security team … doomed. Wasn’t going to make it through the episode. Those Star Trek stereotypes simplified the narrative and let you know what to expect without a lot of dull and expensive dialog every time certain characters popped up. It’s what we do to get through the day boiled down to its simplest form. It impacts all aspects of our lives. It often gets way out of hand.

In today’s world, this whole business of stereotyping is intended to provide us shorthand for what to expect from different groups under different circumstances. However, this stereotyping thing often goes terribly, terribly wrong. We take it too far. We generalize too much. For example, we tend to believe all attractive people are sensitive, kind, strong, poised, and sociable and everybody else … well, not so much. Intelligent people are industrious, poor people lazy. We create self-fulfilling prophecies based on false stereotypes. If we assume a certain group is unfriendly, we steer clear of them. As we remaining cool and aloof toward them, that group is likely to respond to us in an unfriendly manner, confirming our assumption.

In politics and religion both, some of us appreciate power and authority. We expect lines to be clearly drawn and order to be maintained. Others among us are suspicious of any authority, feeling it will eventually become corrupt and harm us. Both sides are stereotyping their leaders and the other guy's and gal's, often creating those self-fulfilling prophecies in the process.

We won’t even approach racial stereotyping and the gross exaggerations that lead down the pernicious road to prejudice. Finally, there are some groups of folks we may even be willing to write off entirely as a lost cause, often based on flawed assumptions and exaggerated stereotyping.

Perhaps it is time to table our excessive use of stereotyping and cease to draw conclusions about folks based on a single aspect of their lives. Maybe we should jettison any conclusions about someone based on whether they come from a red or blue state, whether they favor the Eagles or the Giants (I know, that’s a hard one), or whether they share our particular brand of religion or not. Perhaps we should instead expect to find great faith and good works among people in unexpected places and at unanticipated moments, and be ready to appreciate them when we do. As the newly elevated Pope Francis stated, “perhaps what we should be surprised at is not that unlikely and unexpected people demonstrate faith and do good works, but that we consider them unlikely and unexpected in the first place.”

Let's all broaden our horizons today. Let's set aside the shorthand of stereotyping and actually get to know people. Resist the culturally prescribed writing off of individuals. Especially those who don't agree with us on one issue or another [an increasingly popular reason to dismiss people today]. Let's be willing to have actual conversations on those issues with people who disagree with us, coming to such discussions with open minds and the idea that we might actually learn from each other ... and/or that we might actually change our minds! (GASP!) Let's work together, despite our differences, to create a better world today, for us, for our children, for our children's children. 

Excerpted from my recent sermon "Finding Faith," based on the story of Jesus and the centurion in Luke 7:1-10  ... (Have you reclassified this post in your head yet, based on that one new piece of information?)

I promised you we'd get to this, and now I've done it:

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