A while back I was thinking about our tendency to generalize: to take specific instances and apply them broadly. Our ability to make such mental associations may help us make sense of the world, so long as the associations make sense, but sometimes they fail to represent the whole (or even a large part of the whole). In particular, our generalizations often fail when we observe the actions or hear the words of specific people and act as if they apply to an entire cohort of people.
I don’t want to do that to you. I’d prefer it if you didn’t do that to me, either.
I want to relate to you on the basis of your individuality, your own unique nature, and whatever we might find we have in common.
- Perhaps we have in common a shared experience in school or work or recreation.
- Perhaps we have in common a shared appreciation for music or some other art.
- Perhaps we have in common a shared belief in the founding principles of the United States.
- Perhaps we have in common a shared faith, or a similar enough faith that the differences are not as important as the similarities.
- Perhaps we have in common something more basic, more primal, like geography or heritage or history.
- Perhaps the only thing we have in common is our shared humanity. Perhaps that could be enough.
Surely we have something in common; if nothing else, maybe we can relate to one another based on a mutual appreciation of something simple, like a book. (Image: “Jackie Treehorns (The House on the Rock),” by Justin Kern, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)
I want to relate to you on the basis of who you are as a person — an individual, whole, complete person. And I would like you to consider who I am as a person, rather than any particular association I may represent.
If you permit me, I will try to overcome negative associations you may have. I will try not to come at you only from the perspective of my political viewpoint, my creed, my race, my sex, and so forth — I will not deny them, but neither will I flaunt them. Likewise, I don’t want to relate to you solely on the basis of your political viewpoint, your particular creed, your race, your sex, or anything of the sort. Our politics, our races, etc., are parts of us, but not the sum total of who we are. I am not my politics, you are not your race, and so forth, unless one of us insists on treating the other in that way. I do not so insist.
In other words, I don’t want to relate to you only as a representative of any group, or sect, or party, or biological construct. So, if we can, let’s just meet as two people, and look for something — maybe for anything — that can unite us.
And then, if we can, let’s move forward.