People Are People: They’re Not Their Characteristics
By Ken K. Gourdin
I just posted the following on another forum, for what it’s worth:
Socrates is reported to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think that’s true. One’s capacity for growth and change is severely limited (at best) if one lacks the capacity or the inclination to engage in such self-reflection. However, I think a truism can also be formed from looking at the opposite end of that spectrum by saying that “The overexamined life is not worth living, either.” (One can be so prone … and I know this from sad experience … to engage in such examination that one simply doesn’t live.)
And I think a similar principle can be applied, not only to individual reflection, but also to interactions with others. In no way do I wish to minimize the genuine pain of someone who has suffered the effects of racism or of belief/behavior born of other forms of prejudice. On the other hand, sometimes, nothing is less purposefully given yet more easily taken thanoffense. If I’m constantly hypervigilant against being offended, chances are very good that I will be (offended, that is). And if I’m constantly hypervigilant against giving offense, chances are very good that I will (give offense, that is).
It’s very difficult to have genuinely satisfying interactions with other people if someone is constantly wondering whether he should do [x] or whether he shouldn’t do [y]. And it’s doubly so if someone is sending him signals that tell him, “My [fill-in-characteristic-here] shouldn’t/doesn’t matter … unless-and-until I say otherwise.” If I’m comfortable in my own skin (metaphorically speaking, and whatever characteristic that happens to embrace, whether it be race or something else, such as my disability), I don’t need to allow other people to make me feel otherwise. And we can get so wrapped up in particular characteristics sometimes that we forget to simply relate to each other as people.
But whaddo I know? I’m just one of those clueless, insensitive white folks.