As you might have noted, I haven’t posted the last few days. Partially I’ve been busy, and partially no articles I’ve seen have gotten me to the point where I wanted to start writing. Until now. So while I munch my salad, let me climb on my soapbox…
The Atlantic has a very nice piece on labels in relationship to the Boston Bombers. The piece is titled: “The Boston Bombers Were Muslim: So?” The article explores why we want to turn to labels in times of crisis. If we can simplify the problem to a few labels, we don’t really need to think. This is what leads to the mentality that all muslims are terrorists (which they are not), and often leads to hateful acts against large groups. I’ll note this isn’t just an American problem — were one to go to the Middle East, you would find such similarly broad brush thinking against “Americans” or “Westerners”. I believe that if you look at many terrorist attacks, you’ll see a desire to lash out against a label as opposed to an individual.
I’ve written about this problem before in reference to an increasing desire to see things in a binary fashion: good/bad, black/white, and never shades of grey. This polarization has grown in the world, certainly since the 1980s, and perhaps since (or perhaps because of) the cold war. We see it on Facebook and in newspaper comments, where posts go on and on that the world would only be a better place if (liberals)(conservatives) were all gone. Extremist Muslims would be happy with a purely Muslim society. Extremist Christians want a Christian society. Extremist Jews want a Jewish society. Extremist liberals want all conservatives gone. Extremist conservatives want all liberals gone. Do you see yourself in any of those?
What’s common here? Blind extremism. Taking a hard and fast position on the extreme side of an issue — be it politics or religion — is a sure way to live your life by labels. Fight the urge. See beyond the first impression, see beyond the labels. Recognize that there are shades of grey in the issues, and that truly evil individuals are rare (and you can recognize them by their laughs).
Humans have a tendancy to see things that are not there. I’ll give you two non-political examples. First, did NASA Mars rovers really draw male genitalia on the surface of Mars? Second, well, you’ll have to look at these images to see what is really not there. Turning to the political now: don’t judges based solely on labels. Remember that people tend to fall into a bell curve: for every label, there will be those who are fanatical with respect to the label, those who might have the label but it mean nothing to them, and the vast bulk of people who are somewhere in the middle. All Muslims are not terrorists; most are moderate and believe in peace. All Christians are not in agreement with Westboro Baptists. All liberals do not want to create a socialistic welfare state, and all conservatives do not just want to turn things over to big business. All Liberatrians, well, you got me there
But seriously, the Atlantic article makes a good point: we need to fight the urge to want to label people and then neatly bin them based on the labels. How do we do this? The answer is simple: listen. When you read and converse, don’t do so to sway people over to your side, but to gain an understanding of them. Show them you are listening, and see them more than just the label. Or, to put it in 1980s terms, people are not the alligator on their shirt or the label on their jeans.
Music: Rock Island (Bethany Yarrow): “Come To Me”