Before you cry racism, sexism, ageism, culturism or whatever other ism you can come up with, I invite you to ask yourself: Am I being a jerk? Am I scowling or looking generally unfriendly? Am I interrupting or being inconsiderate? Is it even about me? As humans, we all have good and bad days and are coping with many things at any given time.
What about the other person in the potential -ism scenario; is he stressed? Is she going through something personally? Is he being impatient or rude? Is she just a jerk?
Everything is not an ism! Some people are just jerks! Cretins, idiots, imbeciles, nincompoops! People can be rude, inconsiderate, selfish and sometimes downright mean. There is no race or culture that is exempt from this type of person. A jerk by any other skin tone is still a jerk.
If I don’t like someone, it doesn’t mean I’m prejudice, sexist, or racist. Could it be that person is just not very nice to be around? Or could it be that I don’t not like the person, it’s just that we don’t click relationally? Perhaps we have different viewpoints or interests. Maybe it’s as simple as, I don’t like their outfit or their aura. Does that mean I’m racist or have some kind of culture phobia? Couldn’t it just be that specific individual without bringing in their whole race or culture? Enough already! This way of thinking is very divisive and unhelpful.
We all know that there are very real issues with regard to prejudiced mistreatment of people, however, everything does not fit into that box. I would caution us to give the benefit of the doubt when looking at the scenarios that play out in our lives, both personally and globally. Things are not always as they seem on the surface and I mean that both positively and negatively. A little grace, and assuming the good in people will go a long way.
So, you are in the grocery store checkout line and the woman in front of you abruptly drops her arm down on the counter like a barricade, grabs the “keep your food away from mine” divider, and slams it down at the end of her order. She quickly scrambles up a few steps, making sure there is more space between her and you. As the conveyor belt hums, she keeps looking back and forth between her last item and you. She seems a bit agitated … afraid, maybe.
After reading my little scenario, what are you thinking? You may have already come to some conclusions based on who you are and your past experiences. Or perhaps you had some questions. What color was she? How old was she? How was she dressed? Not only that, but my portrayal of the scene and the words I chose play a significant role in your interpretation and feelings about it.
Depending on who you are, you might think she was afraid of you or judging you. You may feel insulted, defensive, or angry. Maybe you think she has issues, and simply shrug it off. However you interpret it, you have some power over how you respond. A lot depends on where you are coming from, not so much what she did.
Let’s try it again. Same scene, different tone.
So, you are in the grocery store checkout line and the lady in front of you uses her arm as a placeholder while she grabs the little black grocery divider. She places it after her last item and moves up towards the cashier. She glances back a few times as the conveyor belt chugs along. She seems a bit anxious … stressed out, maybe.
Wow, what a difference! The first scenario made it all about you and how she felt about you; whereas the second one put the emphasis on the woman and her own issues. Can you see both sides? Is it possible that we are too quickly jumping to negative conclusions about the motivations of our fellow man?
I am not, in any way, minimizing or delegitimizing true prejudice: it is definitely out there. I am simply pointing out the possibility that perhaps a large chunk of current events linked to racism, sexism, or prejudice may be more correctly attributed to our society’s decline in good old fashioned manners and kindness. I guess it’s easier to accept the notion that someone doesn’t like an entire group of people, rather than look in the mirror and see that you are the unlikeable one.