Monday, April 3, 2017

THERE IS NO "THEM"

"They"

"Them"

"Those people"

"The type who"



All of these are terrible words. 



"They just don't get it."

"All of them are like that."

"Those people always ____..."

"The type who never ____..."



You know what I'm talking about. 



"They all think that way." 

"All of them are bad."

"Those people are NOT my people."

"The type I don't accept."



You know why these thoughts are bad? We hear someone say something, write something on Facebook, wear a shirt from a particular place, support a political party, and we think we know everything there is to know about them. Not only do we think we've got them pegged, but if it's different than how we are, we can write them off completely. 



When I was in high school, I had a diverse group of friends. I hung out with jocks. I hung out with band geeks. I hung out with the goth kids. I hung out with skateboarders. I hung out with the churchy kids. I wouldn't classify myself as little-miss-popular, I just wanted to know all types. These groups were so divided, and I couldn't pick a side. 



The more I got to know each type, the more I realized there is no "they". There is no "them". I found people I loved in each group. No matter what they wore, no matter which car they drove, no matter if they were at the big game or not, I found something I loved in every single group. 



You know why? Because there is no such thing as "they." There are no "those people."



This one kid I knew was different from the rest. He was kind of a loner. He wore a lot of black. He listened to a lot of angry music. I was a cheerleader. I had a lot of pep. I listened to a lot of Britney Spears. I sang in my church choir. It was an unlikely friendship, but we hit it off. I will never forget what he said to me: "I had you all wrong. I thought you'd be dumb and vain and narcissistic. Most cheerleaders are. I thought you'd be self-righteous and unaccepting. Most Christians are. You're nice to me, and that was so unexpected."



Wow. Best compliment of my life to date.



Back in the early 2000's, kids like my friend were typed way more negatively than my type. People like him were grouped in with people like Dylan Klebold and and Eric Harris. Scary, sketchy kids in dark outfits waiting to blow up the high school. My friend was nothing like that. He wasn't scary. He was funny. He wasn't planning to hurt anyone. He was planning his future because he was crazy-smart and not built for our teeny tiny town.



So before you type someone as "they", get to know them. You know what you'll find out? The assumptions you made based on the character sketch you developed in your mind that is attached to people like "them" will be wrong. If you get to know someone vastly different than you long enough, I bet you'll watch the differences melt away. I bet you'll learn you can laugh with anyone. I bet you'll forget what your differences even were in the first place. 



Another problem with the "they" and "them" line of thinking? It's so easy to do. It's the easy way out, actually. We are excused from any contact with this someone who is different than us. 



But why? Why do we do this? I think we can easily deem differences in personalities as our own personal adversaries. Haven't we seen this time and time again? "They" are on that side, so "those people" are therefore a threat to my side. We draw these invisible battle lines with people we have never even spoken to, or even met in person. We invent a war in our minds that if "they" are over there, we better stay over here AS FAR AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE AWAY FROM THEM LEST WE CATCH WHAT THEY HAVE. 



We could become the victim of their opposition and THAT AIN'T HAPPENING, MAN. We sequester ourselves behind walls of division we create in our own minds; these walls composed of stereotypes and assumptions are built brick-by-brick. These walls are built (in our minds) for self-protection, but ultimately they just take our prejudices and fear to new heights. 



"They would never like me."

"I don't like her." {Mind you, I haven't spoken to the woman but I already can't stand her because she fits into some subtype of human I decided I don't like.}

"She believes/drives/wears/votes for/works for/is married to/writes/worships/loves ______, so that tells me EV-ER-Y-THING I need to know, and I want no part of her."



So rather than walking up to her to introduce ourselves or trying to find some sort of common ground, we hide. We hide behind all the typing we did and declare that we are enemies before we ever gave ourselves the chance to be anything else. 



There is no they. There is no mold. There is no type. There is no them. 



I've done this. I mean, duh. Of course I have. Everyone has. I know that woman ahead of me in line at the grocery store with the $500 purse is too snobby to speak to the likes of me. That man walking down the sidewalk with a hoodie over his head is probably up to no good. I know that super put-together mom at the PTA is judging me, so I'll judge her first to beat her to the punch. 



It's foolish and flat out lazy to decide we know all we need to know about someone before we know them at all. We don't know what scares them. We don't know what their passions are. We don't know their stories. We don't know where they came from. We don't know where they've been. We don't know where they're headed. We don't know what they pray for. We don't know what they yearn for. We don't know what breaks them. We don't know their struggles. We don't know what makes them laugh. We don't know their favorite books. We don't know their dreams.



It is completely stupid to take one thing they said, how they wear their hair, where they go to worship, read one social media post, or hear one experience someone else had with them and think that we know every part of them. WE DON'T. 



If people did that to us, we wouldn't recognize ourselves when people described us to us. We would cry out "Wait, but you don't know the whole picture. You've got me all wrong. That's not who I am. I would never say that. I don't believe that. I'm not against you! You don't know ANYTHING about me. This is guilt by association!" And we would be right. Why are we so quick to defend ourselves from being typed but so quick to do it to others? Why? Why do we do this? 



Because knowing someone takes effort. Establishing contact with someone who believes something you don't like feels a lot like work. It feels like work because it is. It's harder. It takes putting the ego aside. It takes time. It takes energy. And it's easier to just make files of types in our mind. We place people in the color-coded file system our background led us to believe exists. We get mad at others for not putting in effort to know us, but we don't want to put forth effort to know others. 



So who is your "them"? Is it a different religious group than yours? A different political group than yours? A different tax bracket than yours? A different weight on the scale from yours? A different skin color than yours? A different gender than yours? A different age group than yours? A different clique than yours? Who are they? Which group did you decide can't co-exist with your group? 



I challenge you to find someone in your group of "they" or "them" and invite them out for coffee or to dinner. I challenge you to try your best to wipe the slate clean of every pre-conceived notion you had before this meeting about them. Talk. Laugh. Share stories. Talk about movies you've seen recently. Talk about problems you're having in your life. Talk about your crappy commute.



You'll find that though this person has common threads with the group you can't stand, she has common threads with you too. This is the fabric of humanity. We are woven together because we all belong to each other. 


Yes, some people are generally toxic and awful. Some people you just have to leave to Jesus. This is true. I acknowledge this. I'm talking about people you have written off before you ever got a chance to know them. Draw your opinions about people from your own personal interactions; not rumors or stereotypes. 



When you reach across the walls you have built to keep "them" out, you'll become a better person. Encounters with differences make us more whole. Different types of people fill in the gaps that we are missing. We can do better, in fact we should do better, because by destroying the idea of "them" that doesn't exist, we become better. 
 

 
 


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