Labels are bizarre. They allow us to categorize a particular group of characteristics into a neat organized mental package so that our brains are excused from the hard stuff. Like the T-shirt motto, of which I am so fond because it is such an honest, asshole thing to admit, “I like stereotypes because they make my life easier.” We all rely on them- it’s the way our brains classify and organize new information. What do you call a guy wearing Buddy Holly frames, flannel and sporting a long beard? See?
Although labels allow our brains to take short cuts, the problem, of course, stems from the fact that they are also confined to the information we put into them. Limited experiences reduce these schemata to stereotypes and rubrics whereas a plethora of experiences will shatter the stereotypes all together. Think about the last 20 years and the idea of coming out as a gay person. When I was in high school, in the early-mid eighties, coming out was unheard of. The stereotype was strong; limp wrist, lisp, effeminate. Over the past two decades the weak stereotype has been obliterated due to the fact that more and more of our high school friends who didn’t quite fit the mold have come out. It is important to recognize how our understanding changes and how our little mental compartments shift. Some with more ease than others.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting the idea of stereotypes and saying, “It’s ok, that’s just how our mind works,” but rather recognizing that once our mind organizes information in a certain way, we have option with how to access it. We can accept the label and confine our understanding within its boundaries or we can recognize, like our mind trying to make sense of an the black and white optical illusion of old woman vs. young lady, that we can retrain our brain to see things differently. I feel very strongly that it is my responsibility to seek God in all people. To recognize the ordering process that my mind has employed and purposefully see beyond it, to recognize and celebrate one’s unique gifts. My doing so connects me with Universe.
“Of course I do this,” claim my most liberal and open-minded friends, “Of course.” I disagree. It appears that most reserve this option for the like minded, or for stereotypes that we have already blown due to the type of interactions in which we engage. We’re set on a criterion of reciprocity, as if others need to expand their own understanding if we are willing to take those steps ourselves. I’m not sure this is the way it works. We each draw from our own experiences, and we all take different paths. I maintain, my journey is my own, and yours is yours (Perhaps a bit too close to I’m OK, You’re OK, I admit.) People come to understandings from different places and at different times in their lives. Ask yourself, would you sit and crack open a Pabst with a guy who sports a Confederate flag in the back window of his truck? Would you have a cup of coffee with a member of the conservative Christian right? Perhaps there’s a Hispter out there who could expand my horizons a bit? Maybe not.