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Wiley Wandering

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March 4, 2010

If I’m a Puppet Who Is Pulling My Strings?

How do we reconcile our way of seeing as truly 20/20 vision, or succumbing to looking through lens that were designed to have us see what the manufacturer of the eyeglasses wanted us to see? How do we stop hating, especially when often our hate of others is packaged in ways that convince us we are not hating someone, but instead just don’t like them for reasons we can’t explain. Granted, if you don’t love someone it doesn’t have to default into being categorized as hatred for them. There is a place for ambivalence. On the other hand, in street jargon, “hating on someone” could be defined as an inexplicable dislike for someone that you don’t really even know.

I had a family member who easily bought into the ideology that all white people were blue eyed devils because of the actions of some. As a result of his belief, other family members of mine traveled down the path he established as a role model of ours, only to find themselves squarely situated in a disdain for white people that was limiting to them in a predominantly white society. Some of my family members never recovered from following the inadequate role modeling available to us. Some of the family members discomfort around White people made them dysfunctional when they had interactions with Whites, which may have contributed to a loss of opportunities that they otherwise may have changed their lives. I on the other hand never could reconcile the “all Whites are blue eyed devils” adage, finding it difficult to reconcile that thought with my knowledge of the role that White abolitionists played in helping Blacks achieve so-called freedom. And this was before I had ever heard of John Brown, the revolutionary abolitionist.

Neil LaBute, in his film, In the Company of Men, has two men targeting a woman for the pain other women have subjected them to. The depiction of these two men is preposterous in that people don’t really lash out at others of a cultural group because of the actions of one representative, do they? Seriously, do people actually dislike a group of people just because of the hype surrounding one? Just because one tall person has been insensitive to my height, just because one clear complexioned person has been insensitive to my skin, just because one non-smoker has been judgmental about a smoker, doesn’t mean that all tall, clear complexioned, or non-smoking individuals will judge us in similar ways, does it? Do we understand the reasons why people are insensitive and/or prejudge? Do you really think that a poor person came out of the womb resenting a wealthy person?

I know a professional colleague that I had heard some disconcerting things about that I must admit I now realize had me subconsciously judging him as pitiful, an embarrassment to his profession, and someone I really didn’t want to give any quality time to. Then recently I had my own experience with character assassination and realized that I wanted people to give me the benefit of the doubt. Does it take us being subjected to an unwarranted accusation or enduring an undeserved pain to realize that we all slip into that mode so easily?

There is a large population of people who never liked John F. Kennedy simply because he was our first Catholic president. There was/is a large population of people who didn’t like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, aside from their politics, because they were women who dared to run for high political office. There were people who didn’t like Jackie Robinson because he dared to think he could play at the level of well established professionals, perhaps because he was seen as a pawn of do-gooders, or perhaps because he was black. Weren’t all these individuals simply trying to succeed in our capitalistic society, pay their bills, raise their children. Granted, when people do dirt they give us the right to take umbrage with them, right? Well, perhaps if we stop and consider the old saying “let he who is free of sin cast the first stone.” Or how about the other one “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Personally, recognizing that I most likely sinned sometime not long ago and will probably sin again soon I won’t be picking up stones anytime soon. Oh, and we all live in glass houses relative to someone’s way of seeing.

I remember so many times I was poised to brief someone about a person they would be soon meeting and had to stop myself, realizing that I was about to possibly pollute two people’s first meeting with my biased perspective.

I grew up hating homosexuals because others around me hated homosexuals (though actually it was fear of the unknown lifestyle or fear of being associated and thereby considered gay that stoked the fire of hate). I ignorantly ranted and raved about gays as if I had actual data that could prove that they should be hated. I didn’t realize that all I was doing was proving that my way of seeing wasn’t mine, but someone else’s that I had ignorantly borrowed.

I recently had the pleasure of engaging a renowned military college in a lengthy diversity session. The room was full of approximately 300 1st year cadets, all in uniform. It was one of the most intimidating presentations I’ve ever done. I was paranoid that a black man from Plattsburgh, by way of South Central Los Angeles and the North side of Tulsa wouldn’t have much of a connection with an impressive group of our future leaders who were poised to embark upon careers that I never really considered an option. I wondered if there way of seeing would be receptive to mine. While I am sure we are miles apart in terms of the detail in our ways of seeing, we did have a couple of things in common. A high majority of them were very much committed to becoming the best leaders that they could be. When I challenged them to move beyond the negative preconceptions they might have about diversity and instead to lean into the conversation with me and actively participate because it was a conversation for them and about them, I felt the room shift. We talked about why we (people) prejudge. We talked about why we buy into the hype people are constantly putting before us about others. We talked about the role we have as so-called leaders to recognize that the easiest thing for us to do is to take the all to comfortable shortcut and not give people the benefit of the doubt. We also talked about how real leaders don’t take those shortcuts, but instead do some real thinking about the issues they must confront and people they meet. Never before have I left a conversation with young women and men and felt so proud to be an American and comfortable with the future direction of our country, largely predicated upon how these future leaders received my challenge to their way of seeing. I know they only comprise an infinitesimal percentage of our future military leadership, but hey, a brother can fantasize can’t he?

How do we reconcile our way of seeing as truly 20/20 vision, or succumbing to looking through lens that were designed to have us see what the manufacturer of the eyeglasses wanted us to see? When are we going to start looking at people the way we want them to look at us? How do we communicate to others that “others” we don’t know deserve the benefit of the doubt.