It's a bit of comeuppance to be faced with your own biases and prejudices all in the space of a few minutes.
Well, that may be an exaggeration, my bigotry happened, unnoticed, at first and only edged slowly into my conciousness as we drove into the setting sun in Michigan. We'd stopped for a bathroom break somewhere at a Meijers store. After so many miles I can't remember where it was we stopped. But, we'd done our shopping and were in the checkout line up. A young man in his early twenties was shopping with his father. The young man was clearly an athlete, wearing basket ball shorts and an easy grin. As I glanced around we caught each other's gaze and he smiled and nodded. I did too.
I felt his natural superiority in that smile.
I caught the, intended or not, attitude of condescension
I resented him for it.
On the way out of the store, I caught the gaze of another fellow. He was sitting on a bench waiting for someone. He wore beige pants that had seen better decades, a tight white tee shirt stretched over his belly, and big, big, boots. His face was grizzled and his shock of white hair needed taming. He gave me a quick nod and smile. I noted and smiled back.
I felt the friendliness in his gesture.
I caught the, intended or not, attitude of welcome.
I was grateful to him for it.
These interactions were so natural and so simple that I never thought of them. But, as the drive wore on and I had nothing else to think about, we weren't chatting because the van was too full of the cries of Madama Butterfly, I began to think about the old fella in the store. As it happens my mind then flipped over to the same kind of greeting given to me by the handsome young athlete.
I judged them differently.
Because of what they looked like.
That's wrong. If anyone knows that it's wrong, it's me. My thoughts about that young man are mine, they do not have a direct impact on his life. Yeah, right. Bigots say things like that don't they?
I need to be careful.
I don't want to be, I don't want to become, someone I can't respect.
Good to notice, and watch out for, prejudice in oneself.
However, the human race would not be able to function without stereotypes - we'd spend the whole day, every day, analyzing endlessly what we see and hear, and never making a decision.
So the quick instinct arose - and sometimes needs to be corrected by conscious thought for some types of stereotypes. I have worked long and hard on some of mine, and have succeeded in replacing some automatic thoughts with others I believe in.
But I don't discount the value of being able to make a snap judgment. The mechanism is there as a gift from evolution.
PS At least you're aware enough to ask yourself if the stereotype is useful/helpful/right.
Michigan?!? Are you passing through or working in our fair state?
Hi Kris, Just passing through. Will be back in June for FOCUS.
This kind of self-awareness and clarity is one of the reasons I value getting to read your writing, Dave. Thank you.
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