Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Than Cardboard Cutouts

     I have a dream. So did the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we’ll get to his in a moment.

     My dream for 2012 is for everyone to start seeing each other as whole beings. I want us to stop trying to shoehorn each other into one-size-fits-all stereotypes. That means looking more deeply into people; from presidential candidates and city council members to bank tellers and cashiers.

     Why is it we tend to take people we don’t personally know and reduce them to a single thought, sweeping viewpoint or general descriptor? (i.e., he’s a racist; she’s a liberal; he’s a snob.) Seeing each other in such ways is harmful and hurtful – to ourselves as much as the person we’re regarding. That’s because, in large part, our knee-jerk opinions are based on superficial things like second hand information, gossip, media sound bites and movie trailers. These arm-chair judgments cloud our lens on who people really are and rob us of opportunities to form meaningful and often times productive relationships.

     The life each of us leads is not easy. It’s nothing like on TV sitcoms, where problems are neatly presented, easily understood, quickly addressed and satisfactorily resolved with a wink and a nod – all in a half-hour. In reality, being human consists of a wonderfully complicated mixture of consistencies and contradictions. We are the sum of layer upon layer of experiences, good, bad and ugly. So why cast someone in the role of a one-dimensional actor, just because you don’t know her?

     Who among us truly has only one side? Where is the person that possesses just one layer? One note?

     It may at first appear a person is capable of being only one way. I know I’m guilty of creating this false perception; especially, it seems, when regarding someone who looks or believes or acts different than me. In some respect, I guess it’s almost natural to view someone different in this limiting way. But in truth, rare is the person whose collective essence can be summed up in a single word, phrase or sentence.

     We are all multifaceted; with as many moods, beliefs and distinctions as there are snowflakes in the sky. Personally, I’ve come to believe we are ‘perfect’ in our complexity, and it is a way of being that should be celebrated. Sadly instead, we typically prefer to see others different from ourselves in ways that, if taken to extreme, can border on mental libel.

     Which brings us to Dr. King. In 1960, he visited Battle Creek where he spoke from the pulpit of First United Methodist Church – the same place where this month’s Martin Luther King Ecumenical Celebration took place. To many, Dr. King’s claim to fame is that ‘he helped black folks.’ That’s certainly an important aspect of the man, but only one. During the Ecumenical Celebration we were reminded he also was a scholar, theologian, friend, father and husband. He also had failings, personally and professionally. Who among us hasn’t? To the greater point, how many of us are willing (for the purpose of helping others) to be arrested, stabbed, stoned and ultimately assassinated, as he was?

     During his life, the Atlanta native emphasized freedom, liberty and justice for all – no matter race, religion or social status. This was glowingly illustrated in 1963 through his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech and his lesser known (but arguably more important) Letter from Birmingham Jail. Dr. King was also about securing civil rights for everyone, ending hunger, poverty and the Vietnam War.

     As we move through 2012, let's all work harder to see one another not as cardboard cutouts, but rather as whole and complete persons. It's the human thing to do.

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