Curiosity is the Bane of Prejudice

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Life, living, politics, religion
Tags: , , , ,

An older heavy-set woman with a slight moustache stands at the bus stop arguing out loud, with a look of sheer frustration painted on her face.   You notice that there are sweat stains dropping down beneath the open arms of her flowered print dress, clearly visible every time she waves her freckled jiggly arms in the air punctuating every point she helplessly makes.

There are two possibilities that occur to you.  She might be loop-de-loop crazy, and she’s on the losing site of an argument with a ghost in her imagination.   Maybe it’s her mother, who never told her she was smart, or pretty.  Maybe it’s her brother, now dead for fourteen years, and she’s trying to resolve their last argument about her bad money management skills.

So you look a little closer (while maintaining your distance), just to see if you can spot a little flashing blue light near her earlobes, because you’d like to know if she’s safe.  It’s hard to tell, as she’s wearing large hoop earrings, which are just slightly peeking beneath her long hair.  Maybe she’s actually talking to a real person.  Maybe a bill collector, or maybe it’s her mother who is still alive, and still causing her no end of emotional pain.

Finally you decide she’s lost her grasp of reality.  So you wonder how she got there.  How does anyone get from “A” to “coo-coo-coo cocoa puffs”.   What was the insurmountable sorrow that broke the dam of her intelligence and awareness?

Maybe you don’t want to know.   Maybe the information would be too scary.  Maybe….if it happened to her, it could happen to anyone.    Knowing this would destroy your carefully wrought sense of emotional invincibility.   Gone are the days when nothing could hurt you physically.  You now know that a fall could cause a broken bone.  At least you have your sanity.  Right?

If you ever watch little kids playing – or if you remember what it was like when you were a kid – you’ll know that they don’t worry about too much.  They have a narcissistic knowledge that everything’s okay, and that they don’t have to worry about their next meal or the fact that their mom and dad love them.   Not having those burdens gives them a freedom to explore the limits of their imagination with each other.   They play and say the craziest things almost without thought.  

You remember what it was like.  You recall standing under a hot sun on your porch, and making the determination that you – no YOU – would be the captain of the spaceship and your friend would be the alien.  Hours would go by before you finished your scene with him, and when mom said “okay boys, it’s time for dinner.  Say goodbye to your friend”, you shrugged and knocked fists with him, the make-believe game now forgotten as your nostrils inhaled the mouth-watering aroma of roast beef.

As you grow older you realize a few things – in the moment – that excite you.  You notice, as a pre-teen, that lights – physical lights –  seem to draw you out.   City streetlights, the amber glow of the sanctuary candle, as it flickers and creates red shadows which labour to reach the vaulted church ceilings.   Or the neon glow of the computerized gizmos that capture your attention.   You don’t wonder at this fascination, because for you it’s normal.    It doesn’t even occur to you that your interest is not actually usual or the norm.  It just is.

Or you read poetry or hear a song, and you get transported on the resonant notes as they draw you further and further away from the present.  You exult in the ebb and swell of the violins or accordion, completely unaware that your friend has no appreciation for your experience.   At the same time, it never occurs to your autistic friend that his fascination for data, for numbers, for the accumulation and retention of historical knowledge – is in any way unusual.   He thinks everyone is the same.

We all do.

And where we see that we’re different, our instinct tells us we need to conform.   It’s too weird to be *too* different from our peers.   Our minds rationalize the difference, and we work hard at being the same, all the while expounding on our uniqueness, our coolness.

Some of us seek the conformity of a common mindset, in whatever form that takes.   For some, it’s a clique at high school, and we make sure everyone notices that we can drink the same amount of beer as anyone else, and that we can tell dirty jokes, or that we can laugh as we throw toilet paper on the trees at the nerd’s place.

Others of us are the nerds, and we take pleasure in our supposedly superior intellect, and in our ability to play chess and pursue intellectual accomplishments as evidenced by our good grades.   

Still others jump into the conformity of the church pews, secure in our salvation.

That little girl who can’t help thinking about her desire to help the underdog never realizes how unique she is.  How beautiful her heart is.

The little boy never understands that his need to act out is really an extension of his need to entertain and build imaginary characters.  He thinks he’s the same as everyone else.  He has no awareness of the shy kid, the kid who hasn’t yet learned how to fit in with the rest.

And so we get into these clubs and groups and find that we feel safe in them.   We defend them as valid – which for us at the time, they are.

But then there are the other unique groups that are too unusual for us.   Like the old lady with the flabby arms.   Or the group of boys who wear their baseball caps a little weirdly, and talk differently and have different coloured skin.

Or (worse!), those girls who hang out together and hold hands and make out with each other in the alley.  Or the buys who laugh a little too loudly, and have sparkling alive eyes, as they joke with each other with a familiarity that is *too* familiar.

It never occurs to us that the individuals in those groups also grew up, just like we did, thinking that their hopes and dreams and desires were all normal.  They in fact didn’t realize they were ABnormal at all – until someone told them.

But this isn’t about them.  Or about the old woman.  Or the actors or painters or the autistic guy.

It’s about you.  And me.  And the realization that ultimately we don’t fit into a singular mould or group.   We are created to be unique.   Some of the things we experience aren’t “usual”.   We aren’t defined by our love of music, or our unique acting abilities, or our penchant for crunching numbers and finding the myriad ways in which math defines existence.   We – each of us – are comprised of a million different characteristics.

If we could all just *see* each other exactly was we are, we’d know that we aren’t the same.  Maybe we’d appreciate our unique views more.  I don’t know.  Maybe we’d understand that not all fingerprints are exactly the same, or each snowflake.   Maybe we would be aware that total sameness would be boring and dull.  Uninteresting and flat.

Last week when having a heated debate about gays who wanted the right to marry, I thought about those who were opposed.   It startled me how easily I was able to compartmentalize those whose ideologies and religion boxed them into an intolerance of the ideal of treating all people the same.  Though it was so very tempting to dismiss my opponents as intellectual Neanderthals, incapable of original thought, the fact is, I appreciated the need not to lump everyone together but to value and respect each person for their unique take on this and other issues.   The more I read what they had to say, the more it seemed to me that opinions are rarely arrived at in a vacuum.  Some are parroting others’ opinions, while others have given it great thought, perhaps under the influence of religious leaders, or perhaps as a result of a logical internal debate.   Whatever the case, I found I could not paint everyone with the same brush.   Finally, without surrender of my beliefs on the issue, I arrived at the following point:

I don’t like to categorize or dismiss people too easily or often because I don’t want to get ripped off.  Even if I disagree with them and think they’re short-sighted, immature or ignorant, the fact is they might say something that will get me to think differently.  They might offer new wisdom or information to which I was previously unaware.  I don’t want to miss that.

 
Occasionally my first prejudiced judgement of them proves to be in error.  Those are the best surprises.  And sometimes I’m so wrong as to feel embarrassed.  That’s a good thing too because I get to learn.
 
Curiosity is the bane of prejudice.
Comments
  1. This so incredibly true that i sit almost crying reading it.I am in a wheelchair and often am pre judged before I’ve ever attempted things….

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    • wolfshades says:

      *smiling* What an honour and a privilege it is to know that you read this, and that it resonated. Thank you so much!

      I really think that the key is curiosity: instead of coming to an immediate conclusion about anything, taking the time to ask questions and delving deep into the motivations of others, you can learn so much. There’s a lot of buried treasure there sometimes. And sometimes not, of course. *grin*

      Like

  2. I enjoyed this so much… thank you.

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  3. It also killed the cat. Not being prejudiced, though, I’d still eat it. ;)

    Religious types are probably the freakiest people. I mean – worse than that ranting woman (or maybe the same?). It’s the way they can be really nice, down-to-earth. Sensible. Generally likeable and intelligent people.

    But then from nowhere they’ll come out with a belief or prejudice that should have died 2000 years ago just because they read a book once and decided to believe something in the face of their very nature, and to me that is proper Frothy-Mouthed Gaa-Gaa insanity.

    They kind-of remind me of those kids at school, who you got on with pretty welll and thought of them as a friend… and then you did something and they told the teacher and got you into trouble just to score points for themselves.

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    • wolfshades says:

      Did you ever wonder about how such people got to that point? What circumstances lead to them adopting their beliefs? I keep thinking back to childhood, and how no baby ever arrives with a set of dogma or prejudices already attached to their intellects. Many grow up without any sort of influence whatsoever. Some do, and then depart from it later in life.

      For that matter, I wonder the same about militant atheists (and by that I don’t mean merely intellectual atheists, who rely on reason and logic to arrive at their stance). Some are actually quite angry and even hateful and bitter. I’ve met a few and questioned them on it, not out of judgement so much as curiosity. Why and how did they arrive at their conclusions? It’s surprising sometimes. Some have been overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of some religious people and have given up the whole thing in disgust.

      Intelectual atheists on the other hand fascinate me to no end. I was a great admirer of Christopher Hitchens who for me represented the most logical and demanding thinker of our time. I was sorry to see him pass away so quickly, and resented the fact that I didn’t get to be there for his debate with Tony Blair in Toronto.

      Some religionists arrive at their beliefs through trauma in their lives. Some through tradition, and still others through curiosity and yet others through a logical process. I think many look for the safety of an enclosed group, where social acceptance is a given. Many will then defend that group with almost rabid fervour, as even the suggestion of an alternate viewpoint represents a visceral unexplainable terror.

      Some, on the other hand, will leave the confines of a dogma and group, belief in deity intact, and will wander the worlds of thought that are out there, discovering the gems of possibility and logic that feed their insatiable curiosity.

      I think if there was ever one person who represented my own view on things, it would have to be Tom Robbins (not to be confused with Tony Robbins, the self-help don’t-burn-your-feet-on-these-here-coals guru). In particular, the character of Alobar in his novel “Jitterbug Perfume” perfectly captures the curiosity that I feel, as well as the openness of the possibilities afforded to our species. Interesting also to note the advances with the recent findings of the Higgs boson particle project, and all of the variations of possibility such discoveries represent.

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      • Robin says:

        Hey Wolfshades,
        I too often wonder what “Makes-Up” a person. I try to show compassion when I don’t understand or when the situation is alien to me. Where I live there are a lot of homeless people. I’ve seen the same ones over the years. I wonder many times, at what point did they lose their grip? (For lack of a better word.) it’s obvious that many are mentally “Off.” How were they formed? Could they have been “Normal” without a triggered event? How do they see the world today?

        I enjoyed your post and it made me think of people’s “Knee Jerk” responses. I have plenty of my own and try to think where the person is coming from before I form my response trying to keep an open mind. Not so easy. We seem to have an inherent “Flight or Fight” to our reactions. I for one have never liked the group behavior, I call it tribal. One could also call them teams. They rally around each other at any cost. It’s us against them or vis-a-versa.

        Growing up poor in a very “White Bread” affluent city in California, I had to be cool to fit in since I didn’t have the “Normal” life, thereby shelving my nerdiness. Reflecting over the years I see well where my first opinions, right or wrong were formed and I try to “Reform” my thoughts and opinions to be my own. And to bring them out from where they have been hiding. ;)

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        • wolfshades says:

          Hi Robin. What a set of fascinating observations you’ve provided.

          In particular your note about the group-think dynamic makes me immediately think of some examples I’ve encountered even at work. I find I’m uncomfortable when bumping into someone who is blindly involved in such social groups (I mean that in the kindest way, as quite often we can get there unknowingly), particularly when there is an invitation to conform and join. For example, the marginal racist guy who can’t wait to reveal his off-colour joke. Or the otherwise sweet lady who is bursting with gossip that she *has* to share about the social misfit.

          You’re right that it’s hard to keep an open mind, and it’s especially difficult to refrain from quick judgements. You can understand the dynamic, and the reasons for it (e.g. “safety of the pack”) even as you struggle to shed some truth and light.

          I wonder if you’ve blogged about your early experiences in California? I’ve had a similar experience with being poor, yet I recall being able to hide it fairly well. Or perhaps not being as aware of it as I otherwise might have been. In this, some guys actually fare a little better, as our ripped jeans and dirty shirts sort of provided a default “cool factor”. Plus, guys more often don’t ridicule each other or judge each other by our looks or what we wear.

          But I do remember the “group think” back then, and the cliques that were formed. I was in with the nerds: a member of the chess club, band and a religious group. Funny thing: the first time I got drunk was an accident. We were on a school band trip and one night we had a creek party, complete with bonfire and everything. They had a “non-alcoholic” punch set up for us Bible guys – which turned out to be spiked. I was kind of shocked when I said something and noticed that my words weren’t coming out the way I wanted. *grin* I think “shocked” didn’t cover it back then. “Scandalized” or “horrified” might have worked better. The group conditioning had me in its grasp for sure, and I couldn’t wait to get back inside the lines after that. Wasn’t until years later, after leaving the church, and walking the road to self-discovery that I ever got drunk again.

          Ugh. I’ve rambled. Anyway, thanks again for your intriguing thoughts! I’d like to know more: about what it was that brought you into your awareness of your previous opinions and the manner of their composing. Cheers!

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  4. racheld23 says:

    Hey Wolf!
    Thanks for mentioning your blog…. I enjoyed this post and look forward to others!
    I always enjoy your well thought out comments… It’ll be nice to read more without the same amount of negative responses (although, they are sometimes fun, too!)

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    • wolfshades says:

      Glad you made it here, Rachel! Thanks so much for reading and commenting too.

      P.S. “momcat” is here too. She posted something on my “about” page, and mentioned her husband’s blog, called “Random Thoughts”. I’m going to add him to my blogroll shortly. I see too that you have a WordPress blogsite. Let me know when you have something up there. : )

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  5. racheld23 says:

    Well, I apparently had to create one in order to post a comment.. Or maybe not and I’m just an idiot.
    I’ve actually been told I should start a blog… So maybe I’ll consider it. (believe it or not I do have some very articulate days lol)

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    • wolfshades says:

      No absolutely not – you don’t have to create a blogsite in order to comment. But that now bugs me – since it’s not intuitive, I may need to change up my theme to make it easier. Thanks for the heads up Rachel.

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      • racheld23 says:

        Well, it could have just been me…. I skim technological instructions (ADD)…
        But, just creating a name wasn’t an bios option.

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        • wolfshades says:

          Seriously? You have ADD too? Cool! : )

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          • racheld23 says:

            Lol, yep.. It’s borderline.. But, definitely impacts my life. Goes nicely with my math disorder :-)

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            • wolfshades says:

              I’ve had it all my life but didn’t know there was a name for it until a couple of years ago, when someone kindly suggested I get tested. It makes me think that I would have opted for an entirely different career, had I known about it earlier (something in the arts). What about you? When did you find out? Or have you always known?

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              • racheld23 says:

                As a child, I was called “spacey Rachy” (if you repeat that at the daily I will find you and slowly dice your testicles)…
                My family just thought I was a little flaky… I would be in a conversation and would just “space out” rather than listen… Kinda rude I suppose.
                Then, in 3rd grade I believe, my grades were horrendous… So, I was tested for a learning disability… My IQ was borderline gifted… But, my lack of focus was severely impacting my grades.. Especially math. I still have the psych report where it states I have mild ADD (different wording back then) and that I was “creative” with math. 14+ 25 became 1+4=5 2+5= 7, therefore 5+7=12…. TaDa!

                I think I finally accepted the issue when I was in pre-algebra in 9th grade.
                Mr. Cahill.
                End of semester.. Do or die time. Either I do everything I can.. Or I will fail the whole class.
                I’m determined. So I walk in to class and sit in the front row. The teacher starts explaining the next lesson. I am focused, man…. I listen to every word and process every instruction. Much to my astonishment.. I get it! I not only know what to do.. I know WHY! It makes sense!
                The instructor begins assigning problems from the text.. So I lean down to my backpack for pencil and paper (I hadn’t done that yet because I knew I would likely start doodling so I was going with audio and visual focus).
                I unzip my backpack, pull out my pencil and notebook, look back at the stuff he had written on the board and listened to what he was saying…. I was LOST! I had absolutely NO idea what he was talking about or what he taught before the backpack distraction….

                Unfortunately, for me, that was my F it moment. Why try? I had the best intentions… And I was right back where I started.

                Thankfully, I changed school’s shortly after and was able to squeak through the math requirements and I graduated. I was also able to earn my associates… But, not without a great deal of adapting. I never took Meds… I don’t think I realized, back then, that I could get help.

                And, as you know.. I now have bigger fish to fry when it comes to my health and well being. But, I frequently have to read and re-read the same paragraph.. And read it again.. I get lost in conversation..
                But, I manage :-)

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                • wolfshades says:

                  Your nickname is safe with me. I belong to an ADHD support group and so I’ve become amazed (and grateful for) the variations on a theme when it comes to how we coped before we got our diagnosis. My school time attention span was about the same as yours. I suppose the reason I did so well was that my only method for learning had to do with cramming. In-class assignments and projects were horrible and I hated them without knowing why. But the adrenaline rush that occurred prior to an important test or exam served to keep me hyper-focused (which I’m told is the opposite side of the coin for this ADD thing) such that I could actually pick up what I needed to know and pass the exam the next day effortlessly.

                  Of course back then I thought everyone was the same – which you often tend to do, when you don’t have that focus. I though the fact that others could work during the year, learn and do so much better than me meant that I was somehow stupid.

                  Work was the same: I found workarounds which allowed me to skip those assignments which required me to display my inability to focus. Even a factory job which required memorization of a sequence of flashing lights was problematic, and enforced my self-doubt and sense of stupidity. God. I remember beating myself up over that one, and really wish I’d known what was going on.

                  Eventually though I realized I was the furthest thing from stupid (as evidenced by my ingenious methods for avoidance of focus-required assignments) and so I settled on “lazy” instead. : ) So a few years ago when I got tested and the doc showed me the graph which indicated a line where “normal” lived and then the upper, almost off-the-page line which showed where *I* was…the relief was amazing.

                  Attending ADD seminars and learning as much as I could about it has proven one thing: my instinct to get into the arts was dead-on. So many actors and comedians who have this condition get into those areas because they actually can thrive there. Anything that gets your adrenaline going like that will keep your focus. Fortunately it’s never too late, and so I’m going back to that, I think. Not sure.

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                  • racheld23 says:

                    When I was given that diagnosis by the school psychologist. There was no offer for help and/or referral to a doctor. My single mom scrounged for a private tutor… It was either that or death row when she tried flashcards to teach me multiplication! “What do you mean you don’t know!? You just knew it!!”
                    Funny, I was a crammer, too. I remember staying up all night before a college exam and highlighting the entire book… That was the only way I could stay focused on the words. (i aced the test!)
                    Before college though, I have very few memories of doing homework, studying, or taking exams in school. I must have done them.. I graduated. Weird, huh?
                    Maybe it’s a matter of interest? I remember my college courses.. I loved the subjects… But, prior to that.. I like you.. Just felt stupid and incompetent.. Why remember it?

                    Like

                    • wolfshades says:

                      Might be worth getting checked by an actual doc for a review. The studies around this have grown a lot since you were tested: there’s more information available now, and much more support, both medically and in the community. Truly made a difference for me – I can tell you that.

                      Not at all surprised that you did well with college. Many of us do – as we learn to capitalize on our ability to hyper focus. Your suspicion around “maybe it’s a matter of interest” has everything to do with it. I’ll bet you’re not a fan of most phone calls either right? (I know – that came out of left field). Me either. I get so lost in linear conversations, which include phone calls, lectures, the works. My daughter is much like me in terms of ADD, and we have some of the most amazing conversations. Before my diagnosis, I remember being aware of our conversational dynamic, and noticing the frustration of “normal” people who weren’t able to join the ride….they often wondered how in heck we got to the topic of skydiving after starting out on money management. : ) It *is* an interest thing, only in that whatever is sensational, or catches our mind’s eye, is what will retain our focus. There is so much info on this stuff Rachel. You would be amazed: people who have this often have problems with addictions, or with keeping relationships. Many of us appear to be “acting out” by indulging in extreme sports, or by getting involved in life-dangering activities: sky-diving, car racing…whatever gets the adrenaline going. Many are in fact adrenaline-junkies (ref. “addictive personalities”).

                      God. I could go on and on. : )

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                    • racheld23 says:

                      I HATE telephone calls. It has actually caused problems with friendships…. And almost with relationships because it seemed like I didn’t care enough to call or answer.
                      And, I often sound like an idiot because I’m so used to conversing with my mom and saying “It’s just so,”
                      She says “I know and I it bothers me!”

                      I don’t have to or want to finish my sentence. When I have to articulate the whole thing I often repeat myself because I am awaiting the same connection I have when having my half conversations.

                      Weird you touched on those things… I have an incredibly addictive personality.. But, I’m very careful because of family history. One thing I’m not.. A daredevil.

                      I never really considered pursuing it as an adult… I’ve just adapted in my own ways. Maybe I should look into it.

                      (didn’t see a reply at the end of your post… So I clicked a different one.. Talk about non-linear convo lol)

                      Like

                    • wolfshades says:

                      Same here with the addictions thing: knowing that there’s a family history has helped me to keep a careful watch on stuff. If I think I’m indulging too much in any one thing – with it’s harmless or otherwise – I’ll stop myself for at least a month to make sure I don’t *need* it.

                      But yes, the telephone thing just about drives me nuts. I can talk for hours with only a couple of people. For the rest – I just can’t wait to get off of the phone.

                      The reply thing only works so many levels deep, so if you want to start a whole new thread, please be my guest. : ) (I just left this one here, so that you’d be notified of a reply).

                      Like

  6. Pseudo_Wolfshades says:

    Okay I just checked (by logging out of WordPress). There are four ways right now to enter comments. Clicking on the WordPress icon will ask for your WordPress login stuff. Or you can click on the twitter icon and login with a twitter account. Or the Facebook icon (same thing).

    Or you can just put in an email and name, as I just did.

    Like

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