TRUE STORY: Twenty-seven years old, I was selling display advertising for a weekly paper … in a small Florida town. The manager of a furniture store I visited each Monday was a well-groomed dynamo. I always listened to him respectfully. He would go ‘on and on’ boasting about personal accomplishments while I tried tactfully to have him choose artwork and inspect ‘copy’ for publication. Despite his bombastic nature, I did put him on ‘a pedestal’ along with other local ‘leaders’. In the same store was an older salesman … rather dull looking … definitely a ‘country hick’. I never gave him the time of day … didn’t even know his name. Of course, you can guess what happened. The manager became ill and left abruptly. The underling took over. I soon found out he was a nicer, more in-depth person than his boss. He even designed his ads before I arrived. Very considerate … saved me valuable time. From that moment on I vowed never to “type-cast” another person. I realized initial impressions were usually narrow and misleading. They were the result of my own pre-conceived notions based on appearance and status.

‘Labelling’, a ‘parent’ to prejudice, is a tendency to generalize about things, individuals, groups. Most people do this. Go to a small community, converse amiably with someone. Then start pointing out passers-by asking “Who is that?”  Inevitably along with a name you will be told the person’s profession and affiliations. “He is an engineer.”  “She is a Moslem.”  “That’s our illustrious Mayor.”  Listen closely and you will be privy to each person’s ‘place’ in an unseen hierarchy. You will also detect approbation or disdain. Individuals will fit neatly into various levels of esteem … or condescension. Your loquacious ‘informer’ exhibits bias of course. ‘He’ is part of the ‘pecking order’. ‘He’ knows where he fits into the community.

It is not surprising that people are proud of the group they belong to. It provides safety and respect. Being a meaningful, viable part of the community is important. Cohesive, likeminded individuals protect one another. They share their lives. Intimate and casual friendships knit a social fabric. This sustains order. And the group will do its best to preserve this. Thus they will be wary of strangers and threats … of ideas or ‘force’. The status quo must be maintained. Otherwise chaos … maybe even dissolution. “We better hang together” is a common refrain.

It is this protectiveness that can easily germinate into intolerance. Different characteristics, race, color or creed … these are often maligned, even condemned. Makes people uncomfortable. “They are not like us.”  “They are different; they are bad.”  This myopic malignancy easily becomes an ongoing hatred. And with more and more in a group concurring in this attitude the easier it is to practice. How many times in so many different ways has hostile prejudice been fomented? Will this world always be rife with xenophobic hysteria? Will peace be constantly elusive because of it? Perhaps.

Maybe a time will come when the vast majority of the earth’s inhabitants will realize that ‘labelling’ impedes understanding, appreciation and empathy. Embracing ALL with an open mind is both just and practical. Every thing and every life form has beauty, complexity and purpose. When it comes to human beings the differences are minuscule compared to what is shared:  drives for safety, comfort, procreation … needs for camaraderie, opportunity, meaningful goals in life.

Remember that in order to grow you MUST KEEP AN OPEN MIND. Do not ramble through life generalizing, relegating ‘inferiors’ to unimportant, superfluous status. Your ignorant complacency and proud iconoclasm can become steel traps that are difficult to escape. Arrogant condescension can easily become an acceptable habit.

Every moment in your life can be a growing experience. Accept all with equanimity. Yes there are breeds of dogs with certain characteristics. There are flowers, plants that exhibit particular traits. People have their cultures and traditions. Embrace this diversity; the plethora of choices is a gift. Revel in it. Fill your open heart and with a world of discovery … one that never ends. Your life will be so much fuller!



©2007-2008 Edwin O'Shea and All or part of only one topic, including all definitions and essay, may be used without written permission. Please see full copyright notice on home page.