Actions speak louder than labels

choose life tag.pngAs I walked in a crosswalk, a driver stared at me and then rolled right in front of me. If I hadn’t stopped, the car would have hit me.  It’s possible the phone she was using distracted her. As she passed, I noticed the license plate’s ironic message: Choose Life. Apparently, there are limits to which lives matter; perhaps, it’s driver’s choice. This particular tag is premium—chosen by an owner to make a statement—rather than randomly assigned by the DMV. Should I assume that all vehicles with distinctively-colored Choose Life plates are operated by scofflaws and/or pedestrian predators?

Or should I assume this person happened to be one-off, not representative of the whole group? Pigeonholing classifies individual into categories. Labeling simplifies: Are you like me or not? “Othering” gives license: shall I embrace or intimidate you? Currently, identity politics have many people lumping views they disagree with and assigning them broadly in a derogatory fashion. People hide behind labels or use them to demonize others who believe differently. Stereotyping is a subtle form of violence. People communicate not only with words, but also with body language and demeanor. Someone can act violently with how they drive, mock, or speak, often without suffering consequences. Aside from pings from individual consciences, there is limited accountability for actions that incite hate.

These days, if seems like a scene from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where firemen burn books, considered contraband, instead of suppressing fires. Currently, people act like more like verbal arsonists than smoke jumpers. Wildfires rage and no one spreads retardant to contain the devastating flames.  “U.S.” is about me, my beliefs, and those who agree, rather than “us.”

Before rushing to classify, one might consider these elements: [1] 

  • Internal diversity: While my husband and I both graduated from West Point and retired from the Army, we approach things differently. Don’t assume all who have served in the military share monolithic beliefs. Don’t judge without confirming.
  • Historical dynamism: People evolve over time. Everything we experience in life causes changes. We are a product of the events, people, and ideas we encounter. Shift happens.
  • Cultural embeddedness: We can be so immersed in what we take to be normal and universal that we fail to appreciate that not everyone thinks or acts the way we do.

Communication may incite or provide insights. To promote peaceful interactions: [2]

  1. State concrete actions you observe in the other person.
  2. State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you.
  3. Make a request for action to meet the identified need.

Fill in the blanks on this template for communicating: When you [action], it makes me feel [emotion]. Please [action].

Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Theodore Roosevelt

choose kindnessHas bludgeoning others with arguments ever convinced them that they are wrong and you are right? Intellectualizing may give your debate skills a workout but it may also solidify positions of those with opposing viewpoints. We can focus on how we are similar or different. Seeking first to understand can build bridges instead of walls. Empathetic dialogue may help to meet the needs of all who are involved. Despite our differences, we are part of the same tribe.

© Joan S Grey, 12 OCT 18
IndexCardCure™: Choose kindness.
http://www.indexcardcure.com

[1] https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/our-approach/four-principles

[2] http://www.wikihow.com/Practice-Nonviolent-Communication

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