Friday, November 4, 2011
Generously overturning the pot
A student recently recounted to me an interaction she'd had with a fellow student in her Latin class. She noticed that he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of the heavy-metal band "Bullets For My Valentine". She remarked to the young man that she liked the group's music. His response: "Wow, you don't fit the stereotype" (i.e., of the people who like their music). The implication, of course, that one has to "look a certain way" to appreciate various kinds of music. (Let's not even get into the issue of heavy-metal devotees taking Latin!)
It was a coincidence, to be sure, that, yesterday, as I was driving to a conference I'm attending, that the drive-time morning show folks were talking about stereotypes that were "problematic". They had callers phone in who didn't fit (let alone appreciate) certain stereotypes associated with their professions. Those who called in included: a petite, well-dressed, female long-haul truck driver; a CPA with a sense of humor; a nurse who didn't wear high heels or show her cleavage. Whether or not any of us accept these as stereotypes, the callers certainly had experienced them that way - - and didn't like them!
And it was certainly another coincidence that, at my conference, I found myself paired with a woman who works for large agency within the federal government who, herself, didn't think she could ever be a "government worker" because they were all like . . . . "that" (fill in the "that" with YOUR stereotype of government workers). She found, to her amazement, that she was an in "an amazing work environment" with people who were incredibly dedicated to making a difference. In the course of her and my conversations, MY stereotypes of "government workers" (probably mirroring her initial suspicions) were destroyed.
The key to the change, of course, was personal experience and conversation. In our case, over the last few days, those of us at the conference have been given the opportunity to be pretty open with each other (and the rest of the conference attendees). We've had the chance to talk about our strengths and fears, successes and failures. In short, to "overturn our own pots", leaving nothing back. The outcome and effect, of course, was deeper understanding and acceptance. Those things that might have artificially divided us -- and stereotypes, in my mind, are artificial constructs that divide us -- were obliterated.
We all want to be understood. Our world demands that we strive to understand one another (almost all media messages to the contrary). Yet we acquiesce to stereotypes; we perpetuate them. So it's an incredibly generous gift to another person to engage them, to walk together past the stereotypes, to find understanding.
Overturning our pot is the necessity of our time. In doing so, we might find that we can complement each other to make our world better.
Hold nothing back!
*The "Jataka tales" are accounts and stories of the prior incarnations of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha. They are part of the sacred Buddhist scriptures.