Seeing Past Stereotype

One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”
Titus 1:12 (NIV)

A while ago I enjoyed coffee and caught-up with an old friend as she was passing through town. It was not surprising to hear her observations of our little town and its citizens. Our town has long had a reputation of being very conservative and very religious. Like most stereotypes, there is some truth to it, though it is not close to what urban legends have made it for people like my friend.

I’ve learned along my life journey that this is a problem with stereotypes. Like all generalizations and prejudices, they may be rooted in specific things that are, or were, true. They are never universally true, however, and most of the time I’ve found them to be a lazy way of categorizing a group of people in order to fit them into the box of my world-view.

Wendy and I have, for many years, lived and operated in both the Christian community and the arts community in our region. We have observed that many members in both communities paint the other with broad brush strokes of stereotypical generalizations that diminish each other in tragic ways. The generalizations only serve to perpetuate misunderstanding and negativity toward one another.

Today’s chapter begins an instructional letter Paul wrote to Titus. While Titus is never mentioned in the book of Acts, he is referenced thirteen times in Paul’s letters. Titus was a trusted companion and coworker with Paul, and had left Titus on the island of Crete to help organize the fledgling groups of Jesus followers throughout the island. His letter was meant to provide encouragement and instruction in the work.

In the opening of his letter, Paul references a stereotypical view of Cretans sourced from a Cretan prophet. All Cretans are liars and gluttons, the prophet said. Paul acknowledges the truth of the stereotype and urges Titus to rebuke them.

As I sat and listened to my acquaintance over coffee it struck me that her view of the world was based on sweeping generalizations. She saw the world as a scary place full of hatred, oppression, and fear, when facts say the opposite is increasingly true. I humored her by laughing at her perceptions of our community and acknowledged that there is some truth to it, but I also felt a twinge of sadness that she would likely never experience all the positive ways her generalization falls apart when knowing, working with, and living among the incredibly diverse members of our community.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the stereotypes with which I’ve been labeled and painted by others across my journey. I’m also thinking honestly about the people and groups whom I generalize and pre-judge in my ignorance. It seems to me that this is one of those Golden Rule moments in life. I have to lead by example and treat others the way I, myself, would want to be treated; Not as a stereotypical member of a group, but as a unique individual who doesn’t fit neatly into the box of another’s perceptions.

 

3 thoughts on “Seeing Past Stereotype”

  1. I can’t resist the joke: And NEVER confuse Cretans with cretins!!!

    As for stereotypes, I agree with you, Tom. They customarily have some basis in fact, but the operative word there is “some.” Everyone needs to read a book before slamming it. See a movie before passing judgment on it. Live in a community/culture/country before pigeonholing it.

    When we moved to Pella, my niece’s husband, who happens to be an ultra-conservative Iowan, warned me that Pella is “extremely conservative.” And, of course, that is true for a portion of the town, but not ALL of it. I found Pella to be a fairly tolerant, open-minded place. And certainly fair-minded. And, most of the time, accepting of me and of Linda. There were times I felt as if I was the “other,” but rarely uncomfortably so.

    Mark Twain said something pithy about travel being fatal to prejudice or intolerance. I concur. I for one, am happy to have traveled to and lived in Pella.

    1. Thanks for the comment and observations, Kevin. I, too, received many warnings about moving to Pella. Some of them, ironically, from those who grew up in Pella and “escaped.” This brings up another interesting twist on the prejudices and perceptions. A child who grows up in a community and has virtually no choice in the matter has a very different perspective than a mature adult moving into the community. We’re back to the reality that we have different experiences and perspectives that may not be true for ALL, as you aptly pointed out.

      Miss you, my friend. Looking forward to reuniting with you and Linda.

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