Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Inquiring minds

There are some things in life that really puzzle me. I don't know if there are any answers but here's my ever-growing list:

  • If the man who gets the title "Sexiest Man Alive" is still alive the next year, why doesn't he get that title again? Can you only be sexy for one year?
  • Does calling an event "First Annual" make any sense? I mean, if it's the first time it's happening how can it be an annual event? Don't you need some history to call it that?
  • Why do people say "Easter Sunday"? When has Easter ever happened on a Thursday?
  • Isn't it repetitive to say "He owns his own home?" If he owns his home, isn't it his own?
  • Why do cashiers compare your credit card signature with the electronic signature? You can't write normally on those devices and so they never look the same.
  • What defines Modern Art? Is it Modern when you need someone to tell you what the hell it is?
  • Why do some people who claim to love Jesus act nothing like him?
  • Why is it that when someone cuts me off on the highway they always have a zillion USA flags on their car?
  • When did companies decide that having a computerized voice talk to me like we're having a real conversation is less annoying than typing my responses into my phone?
  • Why do I always get a store coupon in the mail 12 hours after I visited that store the night before?
  • Why does baseball have managers while everyone else has coaches?
I find more and more of these every day. What have you got for questions?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What's your stereotype?

Every Tuesday I write a lesson plan for the high school youth group I lead on Sunday mornings at my church. I have a lot of ideas of what to talk about but since I want to facilitate their conversations as they discover the truths themselves, I have to come up with a lot of open-ended questions. And also a way to keep them engaged and the conversation flowing.

Last Sunday we had a very deep discussion on stereotyping. For two previous Sundays we had a guest facilitator run a session on the Myers-Briggs personality test. We learned a lot about ourselves and others in the group but after the meeting I started hearing some generalizations here and there from the kids based on their personality types.

So, last Sunday we talked about how it's all good. A diverse group of personalities, when working together and being respectful of each other, is more effective than one that is, for example, full of all extroverts or all introverts.

I passed out index cards and asked the kids to write down one label they either have been given or think they've been given. Have they been labeled as jock, or computer nerd, or something else? To help explain, I gave myself the label "Unitarian Universalist". That label says a lot of things about me that may or may not be true. People who don't know me but know my religion might make assumptions that I am super liberal, pro-choice, earthy-crunchy, don't believe in a higher power, etc. Some of those are true, some are not.

What we discovered in exploring the labels we've been given is that not only are stereotypes multi-faceted, but we are as well. There are multiple levels of stereotypes. The highest one we could come up with was gender. Assumptions are made about us and expectations are put upon us based on our gender. That's nothing new.

The interesting thing we talked about was all the layers beneath gender. Gender assumptions are made about our career choices, relationship behavior, hair color, interests, reading preferences, and on and on.

And within each layer are more stereotypes and assumptions. "Oh, you're a boy who likes computers? Then I guess you aren't interested in sports." "You're a girl with blonde hair? You must be dumb and boy-crazy."

I told the kids that we all have these knee-jerk reactions when we meet someone new. It comes from a primal place in our DNA. As mammals wandering around in a prehistoric world, our survival depended upon our ability to make quick assessments of a stranger. Is he friend or foe? That instinct still exists today.

Does it make it okay to say, "I'm just being true to my DNA?" and continue to stereotype? No, of course not. But being aware that we do it and reaching back into our souls for the labels we live with is a huge step forward from our prehistoric selves.