“Have we not learned?”

 

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”  – Dalai Lama

“Kindness and faithfulness keep a king safe, through kindness his throne is made secure.” – King Solomon

Over the last few days, I have had some lovely conversations, but a few of them have been tainted by troubling generalized statements.

In a conversation with my husband, I recently stated that angry Atheists and Christian zealots deserved each other. That we should send them off on an island to duke it out. What I see in these two groups is a similar blindness. They are only focused on their perspective and lack empathy.

For Christians it is easy to make arguments for why this perspective is at the very least not in line with Biblical teachings. While on Earth, Jesus chose to spend his time chastising the religious leaders of the day and hanging out with those deemed undesirable or unclean by the religious leaders. I often wonder what Jesus would say to current religious leaders. How would he chastise his current followers?

For Atheist I have never truly known how to engage them around their Christian bashing. If we have a relationship I know from experience I will usually get the great chestnut response “Oh, but not you.”

I wish we as a society could understand the damage we are doing when we use generalizations. Our lack of specific language makes room for offense. If I say “All rabbits are sex fiends.” my statement includes everyone. Any rabbit within my presence could be offended, and rightly so.

No one likes to be told who they are and this is what generalizations do. They seek to name in simplistic terms a key part of who large groups of people are. Hate speech and any kind of identity bashing are full of generalizations. These statements make no room for nuance or outliers or exceptions. They state only a rule that of course applies to everyone equally.

In that same conversation with my husband he said something that stuck out to me, “Have we not learned?” Generalizations are a hallmark of them vs. us thinking. Many have stated how this kind of thinking contributed greatly to the current state of American politics and the growing polarization of Americans.

“As citizens of this great nation, it is kindness, love, and compassion for each other that will bring us together – and keep us together.”  – Melania Trump

I don’t know that we can move forward as a society if we continue to classify each other using generalized statements. It is not only important that we stop thinking in them vs. us terms but also that we shift our language. No group is monolithic.

Generalizations can be useful, but not when stated alone. The only thing I have seen these statements create on their own is offense and distrust. We need more than these statements. This post is an example of this. If I had left it at “…angry Atheists and Christian zealots deserved each other…” I don’t know that I would be doing much more than pissing off two large groups of people. I had to keep going to expand on why I felt this way, to move past the emotion of frustration.

I think that is what has to be done. On the micro level, each human being on the planet must try to move past the particular emotion driving their generalized thoughts and speech. This is where the conversation starts. “Immigrants are taking our jobs.” “Christians hate gay people.” “Native Americans are drunks.” “Millennials are all lazy.” “Gay people were molested as children.” “Californians are so smug and self-righteous. They think they know everything.” “White people are ignorant.”

“It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world.” –  Nellie Bly

Each of the statements are things I have heard people say in conversation. All of them are wrong.  The last one is something I said. I’m glad my husband was there to call me out and encourage me to push past the momentary feeling. He helped me to get to what was really going on.

After 2016, I heard many people talk about the need for Americans to come together. This might be one way of doing so. Or maybe like my husband stated we haven’t learned our lesson yet. I just worry about the cost we will pay to learn it.

“We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”  -Ellen DeGeneres

“First and foremost, we need to be the adults we want our children to be. We should watch our own gossiping and anger. We should model the kindness we want to see.” – Brene Brown

“The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

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