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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some thoughts on labeling

They call them labels, marketers call them brands, others call them stereotypes, but they are all the sme thing--ways to understand where someone or something fits in relationships to other people or things.

 I use to worry about stereotyping, but as I often said, I wouldn't do it so much if I wasn't right so often. The reality is, of course, that there is not a lot of difference between most people, but having said that...it's the differences that make all the difference in the world. When I say that there are not a lot of differences between people words like "label," brand, stereotype and others fit our general human situation. We all need to eat, we all try to communicate, and most of us within our cultural and social world do those things in similar ways

. But does that mean that every Black American teenager who wears a hoodie is a physical threat to a White American? No. But why do people think so? Media assault aside, something like a young teenager wearing a hoodie sweatshirt around a gated community should not be viewed as a threat. But we can't put the media assault aside--this is not 1912 anymore--but even so we have to overcome the negative with something positive. We have to see that our rush to label someone as a negative threat goes against the even more basic label of our common, shared, need to breathe.

The Christian tradition I have been a part of all my life has a way to work through the fear and confusion that arises when negative stereotypical images arise within our daily lives. "Don't bear false witness against your neighbor." Now, this is one of the 10 Commandments, but it doesn't mean "don't lie." It means something like: don't let your fear of your neighbor cause you to lose your own humanity. That is, always be human (true witness) around your neighbor. Martin Luther once commented that this commandment means to "Put the best construction forward" on what your neighbor says and does. In other words, if your neighbor does something you think stupid or ill-advised, try to see it from his or her point-of-view.

Being human around other humans, you begin to see where labels do not really tell the whole story. So we have to be aware of the negative power of labels, brands, and stereotypes precisely because they tempt us to be less-than-human. They tempt us to trade in our human power to share and live togeher, to laugh, and to trust, and to replace those noble virtues with fear, cowardice, and hate. Never strive to be sub-human, and labeling is often the first step in trading in your humanity for something far less worthy.

May your table be full, and your conversations be true.

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