My neighbor across the street has a Ron Paul for President sign posted prominently in his front yard. Although we have not yet met I am already forming an opinion of the occupants of that particular home and it’s not a good one. Based on a small cardboard sign alone I could assume that the occupants, are comprised of a male headed household, conservative, republican, patriotic, religious, christian, hard working, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti social reform, anti health universal care, etc,… This list begins with information gleaned from Mr. Paul’s website and ends with a more observatory and ultimately speculative and biased approach. Many of these traits are indeed admirable and inane by themselves but clumped together paint a portrait in my mind of a stereotypical insensitive rigid bigot. This tendency to prejudge without provocation or informed consent troubles me.
Given my own predilection for judging others, which I can only assume is not an uncommon occurrence. I often wonder whether the rainbow sticker so proudly displayed on the rear window of my car paints a stamp of “other” on my forehead in the same way as the republican sign post has labeled my presumably more conservative neighbor. While I bear the label of other proudly it is likely distancing me from my surroundings, from other people, and from experiencing my new home. My first inclination is to remove the sticker, to blend in and let people interact with me to discover for themselves whether or not I’m their “kind of people“. Would removal of a sticker actually alter who and what I am? Of course not, but it does provide a barrier that some people simply can’t permit themselves to cross. The next question that I ask myself is more complicated. Do I care to meet people who would avoid meeting me simply because of an assumed trait or characteristic? If I do care, aren’t I as guilty as they by labeling my Ron Paul neighbor?
Raised in the American South, I’ve seen racism, sexism and homophobia first hand. I’ve also felt the religious piety of the bible belt on my own tender skin. I know that there are those that will use any means necessary to distinguish you as inferior, so that they themselves may feel superior. Be it by race, sex, creed, or religious belief, the means are irrelevant. The end goal is suppression of the individual in deference to the tribe, those who think alike, act similarly and court no variation in thoughts or deeds. What I fail to understand is how we as a nation have accepted this mantra as gospel. We the people, the murky colored melting pot, multilingual, multicultural tribe collectively called the US, are by supporting this feckless behavior suppressing the very thing that makes us unique; our individuality.
I am not immune to it’s appeal. I too feel insulated and safe within my comfort zone of those who are like myself. I fear those I freely label as others based on the concept that they do not accept me, and may secretly wish me harm. This label is based solely on the fears and experiences of people like me. It’s so easy to label us and them. We are the tribe. They are those outside the tribe who wish us harm. Sometimes this fear is justified. Homophobia is a harsh reality for myself and many like me who do not hide under the conformity of passing.
In my childhood (and still today) I was a huge Frank Herbert fan. In the book DUNE, the author states the most eloquent passage on fear that I’ve ever read. A brief passage which resonated in the mind of a teenage girl in 1984, still reverberates today. It’s been many years and I don’t remember the wording verbatim, so I cheated and looked it up in wikiquotes. Here it is.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.“Frank Herbert, DUNE, 1965 – The Bene Gesserit Litany against fear
Facing our fears, thats not so hard, but tracing them to the core and understanding them, thats much tougher. My challenge is to question my assumptions. See whether or not they’re fact based or fear based. Act on the facts, and try to mitigate and understand the fears for what they are, social anxiety.
I guess that means I have to meet my neighbor. I wonder if he likes chocolate chip cookies?