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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Stereotypes are often not Stereo, but instead Mono

When I thought of the idea of this blog, I was going to have the big focus of it be based on the  Michael Brown case in St. Louis. I was going to note how there seem to be two very distinctly different camps on the issue, each supporting a largely separate narrative.  My point was going to be the narrative, when told by each camp, was only part of the story and that at least in some cases was based on stereotypes.  In other words, instead of the story being played in 'stereo', it was being played in 'mono' by each side. When you combined some elements from each side (mono) and added some missing elements in the story, you got the story properly told in stereo. Anyway, that was going to be the direction, but my the direction of my post changed.

A number of years ago, a heard a phrase that stuck with me which encapsulates how I feel when in the process of doing or saying something, my mind or direction suddenly changes.  I'll have an epiphany and my direction changes dramatically.  The phrase is "a funny thing happened on the way to heaven..."

Anyway, a funny thing happened on the way to heaven considering how to open this blog.  Veteran's day celebrations happened.  It reminded of my father who passed away in May 2015.  He had a hard life as a child and adulthood that wasn't easy. He didn't always make the best choices, show the most compassion, exude the most sensitivity as it relates to societal issues.  My relationship with him wasn't the Hallmark Channel child/parent bonding moment.  Nor was it the hey let's go for beers and shoot the s***.  It was unequal for a long time.  But, when he was shuffling between the hospital and nursing home in his final days among the feelings I felt for him--besides regret that circumstances got in the way of a close relationship over his life--was a sense of this is my dad who gave perhaps only what he was able to in relationships.  In dying, he was honored with burial with full military honors.  Whatever mixed feelings I had for him, I was very proud to be honored as being the one who was tasked to set up his military burial (as well as other arrangements--with help from my brother).  I was proud to be the next of kin for my veteran father.  I was proud to take my daughter of 8 to his funeral and have her experience firsthand what it means to be honored militarily that way. 

So, back to the point at hand and my original idea.  What I've found in life is that when we discuss people we don't know (and sometimes people we know or think we know), we tend to get stuck on the seemingly obvious point(s) about them and ignore the rest of the story.  

Michael Brown's life story ended August 9th, 2014.  All we usually hear is the events of that day.  If siding with the pro-MB side, we hear of a troubled young man who was working to better himself, who was trying to comply and was shot down.  If we side with the anti-MB side, we hear of a thug who had what was coming.  Either way, we miss the backstory.  What events in MB's life led up to the confrontation.  Who could have been there him in a more profound way, but failed him along the way?   People talk about the events of August 9th, but I believe the situation had been working towards an unhappy ending for years.  But, I digress.

My father's life story ended on May 1st, 2015.  If you peeked in on his life, you'd see a person who wasn't always good with kids.  You might see a person who wasn't always racially sensitive.  You might see someone who wasn't one to open up.  You might see someone who abused alcohol for many years.  You might see someone who struggled in his relationships.  In short if you just peeked in, you'd see Mr. Old School, someone who seemingly didn't have a softer side.  You wouldn't necessarily be wrong with your assessment, but you'd only see the "mono" (or stereotyped) version of his life.  The father I knew, he was placed in foster care early and never was fully accepted by his family.  The father I knew was raised by a strict, old school, older foster father.  The father I knew on some level wanted relationships, but never had close relationships modeled closely in his life.  The father I knew, despite his bluster about others and 'others', I witnessed to be polite to and even helpful to others including people of color.  The father I knew served his country honorably and deserved a proper military burial with full honors.  The father I knew in his later years, was helpful to older people. The father I knew could be very generous too. In short, one could see a lot of Archie Bunker in him, but that would only be part of the story.  That would be a stereotype. In reality, he was a much more complex man in some ways with good mixed in with not so good and even some of the not so good wasn't totally as advertised (or blustered).


In my own personal life, when I let the dust settle with regard to others, I see that they either aren't as 'perfect' or as 'bad' as advertised.  It would be easy to place them in bins and label them as good and bad, but I know in my heart, that would be emotionally/intellectually lazy of me.  So, finishing up this Veteran's Day, think about veterans in your life and give them the thanks they've earned.  But, also consider others in your life (and in our society) and give them the benefit of the doubt.  That is, attempt to see them honestly, rather than seeing them conveniently.  It may take some work and it may not be satisfying, but I think the exercise could help you be more honest about yourself as well.

Just my 2 cents worth,

* I hope one day when my life story is 'written', that I will be looked at fairly. I can accept the bad, but I would like to think it would be balanced out with the good.

(posted originally on 11/11/17).  

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