Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case . . .
One of San Diego’s regular transients was at the train station when John took his stepson, Adam, to catch his ride. Buddy is a panhandler and is well-known to many at the train station. He’s not very fragrant, but neither is he persistent, and never ever rude.
Buddy asked John if he had any change so he could buy a cup of coffee.
“Buddy, I’m sorry, I just don’t have any money on me.”
With John ruled out as a contributor, both Buddy and John looked to Adam. Slightly embarrassed, Adam said he didn’t have any money either.
The three exchanged small talk and then John and Adam walked on.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Adam told his stepdad, “He tried to pick my pocket.”
“Are you sure?”
“While you two were talking he came over and bumped into me and I‘m sure he tried to reach into my pocket.” Then Adam said, “This pocket, right here in my jacket.”
Adam reached into the pocket and . . . pulled out a crumpled dollar bill that hadn’t been there before.
In 1798, Fermin Didot, a French printer, created a process by which he could print books without using movable type. He created a printing plate called a “stereotype.” The printing surface for a stereotype was called a “cliché.”
Walter Lippman used the printing term, stereotype, in 1922 as a metaphor to describe how we often view members of a group as duplicates – all having the same characteristics.
Following our train of thought, this is the perfect opportunity for me to become a scold and warn against stereotyping anyone. But experts say we can’t help stereotyping – we put everything into categories. When I tell my wife, “Hmm, this looks like a good place to look for huckleberries,” I have engaged in stereotyping.
But it’s not simply that I can’t help stereotyping people; sometimes I don’t want to avoid it. I have told others that the Japanese are very polite or that the Inuit are a hospitable people. Are their exceptions to my statements? Of course. I’m sure at least one Apache warrior was a coward, and there’s one Nebraskan farmer who isn’t friendly. All the same, I intend to cling to my stereotypes and praise the whole lot of them.
When, however, we label everyone in a group with a negative trait, stereotypes become sinister (and even the word “sinister” – which means “left-handed” is a stereotype.) What makes negative stereotypes so dangerous is that they are often motivated by a desire to feel we are above others. Other groups are denigrated, in other words, in order that we may feel superior to them.
If you have a better way to go about this, I’m open to suggestions. But, until I learn to view people without categorizing them, I intend to praise groups for positive traits I observe, and try my best not to assume anyone has a negative trait simply because they belong to a certain group.
Not even panhandlers at train stations.
(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)