Monday, February 2, 2009

You Know What Assumptions Do, Don't You?

Over the weekend I had three experiences that forced me to start thinking about how I look at other people…other human beings.

On Friday I read an article about people using the phrase, “that’s so gay,” as way to describe something stupid or ridiculous or (in fashion) hideous. The phrase has nothing to do with homosexuality. It’s a simple put-down.

The point of the writer, an authority on gay/lesbian behavior, was that using the word “gay” in such a way denigrates gay people. And, such denigration eventually leads to gays being discriminated against and, in some cases, physically assaulted.

Now, I have to admit, my initial reaction is that this was one more example—not unlike some issues and comments that people of color bring up—in which the writer comes to the discussion with a chip on his shoulder. That type of oversensitivity seems to lead to a sense of “white/gay/obesity/you-name-it guilt” I see in too many people.

So, hang with me.

Late, late, late on Saturday night I encountered some videos on showing heat signature shots of Taliban and other terrorists taken from American planes and helicopters in the war zone. I was struck by how the footage (granted, that’s an archaic term) made the whole thing look like a video game. I watched as people ran from trucks and buildings and then disappeared in flashes of light and smoke as the bombs hit.

Third, I watched videos of the terrorists’ planes flying into the World Trade Center buildings. And then watched people jump from buildings to their deaths.

I thought about how the videos and the article about the gay phrase could easily lead me to think about other people as less than human. They weren’t people, they were just blips on a video, or words in a phrase. I have to believe that that’s how Germans…how a variety of societies…have thought about Jews for centuries.

Part of the experience is just humans being humans. Throughout our history our ability to recognize “different” has kept us alive. Different makes us cautious; cautious keeps us alive.

But, we are past the point at which another human’s color, religion, sexual orientation, bodyfat percentage, or other physical or psychological difference is a threat…if it ever was.

The key is what “they” do. Action is everything. What the other person does tells us if they are friend or foe. If they have a history of actions that are threats to us, then it’s time to be cautious. I’m certainly smart enough to realize that there are situations in which we can’t wait for others to act before we react. A threat to national security is a different animal altogether.

But, I can’t shake this feeling that we all make assumptions that slow us down; assumptions that keep us from fully connecting with others who could make a positive difference in our lives.

What assumptions are you making about others based on appearances or issues, not actions?

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