I believe that people have an overriding need to have rules to differentiate “good” people from “bad” people. These rules stem from a need for safety and to protect ourselves from “bad.” If we know who the bad people are, then we can feel a sense of protection. These rules can be helpful, but they lead to generalizations in thinking that often do more harm than good.
I grew up loving dogs and I am still that grown-up who wants to stop and play with every dog I see. Not a good idea. There are some dogs out there who don’t want to be played with at all. There are also some who love to be played with, but not at that moment. When they don’t want to be played with, they bite. I have been bitten.
There are a lot of possible responses to being bitten by a dog. I might have decided that “all dogs are bad” because I was bitten by one. That would lead me to avoid all dogs. I will be frank. That rule sucks. I would miss out on the snuggles of my own two dogs and the joy I get from most dogs.
For those who can recognize all the amazing dogs in this world, that rule is far too general. That may lead people to still want a rule regarding dog safety, but maybe a less stringent one.
How about we decide that certain breeds of dogs are bad. I have heard many people say that pitbulls, or rottweillers are dangerous dogs. I have also heard that labs and golden retrievers are “the best breeds.” This type of rule allows me to love dogs and still be safe from the “bad ones.”
Here are the problems with this more moderate rule. A friend of mine in college had one of my favorite dogs of all times…a rottweiler. One of my own dogs, the one who would live on my lap if she could, is part pitbull. The dog that bit me was a lab.
Well, shit! Now what?
I have decided to approach all dogs with both love and caution. I slowly get to know each one. I recognize which ones are friendly, which ones are not and which ones have specific triggers. It is far more complicated and requires far more effort, but it decreases the likelihood that I will either miss out on man’s best friend or get bitten. I can live with that.
While I am sure there are people who would disagree with my dog logic, I don’t think it would be widely debated.
So, lets turn to our rules about people. Once again, we are prone to make rules based on generalizations. They are shortcuts that help us feel safe, but they lead us to forget a central truth. Every person is a member of groups. They are in groups based on age, groups based on gender, groups based on physical appearance, groups based on culture, groups based on occupation…. The list is never ending.
I have been hurt by people in most of these groups. People of all genders. People of most professions, people of many cultures and appearances. I have also had wonderful experiences with people from the same groups. To judge each person by the groups they belong to does not protect me. It limits me.
People are individuals. Capable of good and bad. There is no rule that will help me find only the people who will better my life. I wish it were that simple. It is not.
I would miss out on so much if I lived by rules about each group. Moreover, I would cause so much damage to those people. Instead we must all proceed mindfully. Each person you encounter will be different. Proceed kindly even if with caution. Take the time to do the work of getting to know individuals, and not the groups they belong to.
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