Thinking Out Loud

July 11, 2013

Strange Biases and Prejudices

Filed under: ethics, relationships, writing — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

The first job I got at 15 was in a large department store that employed hundreds of people. One day while I was working on the 2nd floor, someone needed to contact a girl who was working at the first floor checkouts. Since there were six people working there, they asked me to describe her.

I described her in detail; her height, what she was wearing, her hair color and length, and the person went off in search of her. A few minutes later they came back and said — and these are the exact words — “Why didn’t you just say she was black?”

For the next several weeks, I somewhat prided myself in the fact that my brain registered her simply as a person, and not that she was African American (or more accurately, African Canadian).  I had gotten to know her well enough that her race just wasn’t a factor.

But years later, I was aware of more subtle prejudices that had crept into my life. The main one, I’m ashamed to say, was red-haired people who were left handed. Yes, I knew several of them. And this was years before “kick a ginger” was fashionable. I don’t exactly where it came from, though in middle school, I was (somewhat mildly) beat up in a school restroom by a guy with red hair, though I never asked him if he was right-handed or left-handed. You just don’t think of things like that at the time.

I don’t honestly know how the two traits blended to form one profile, but eventually, I got over it.  (The sound you’re hearing is all my left-handed and red-haired readers unsubscribing.)

Growing up in Toronto, there were all sorts of stereotypes concerning bad drivers.

  • one particular gender (can you guess?)
  • one particular race (“they don’t get in accidents, they cause accidents”)
  • cars from one particular province (bet you have this in the U.S., too)
  • persons driving particular models of car (it varied)

Of course, the more of the above factors you combined into one driver the more you wanted to avoid them.

But like my situation with the girl at the department store, I prided myself in not being consumed by these stereotypes, even though I suspected that the anecdotal evidence bore some truth.

black truckBut then, several years ago, I did latch on to a new driver stereotype, and one which I am guilty of as I write this: people with black pickup trucks. I maintained — and still do — that ownership of a black pickup is as much about an attitude as it is about the vehicle. I count the times we’re passed on the freeway by aggressively driven black pickups. (My wife notes how I seem oblivious to people in other types of vehicles who go speeding past.) I think this one traces back to a neighbor who I was convinced tried to run me off the road a few times in his Chevy truck. Or maybe it was a Ford pickup. I don’t really know.

I still maintain that a person could not — not even in Texas — be a Christian and drive a black pickup truck. The two attitudes are completely incompatible. (But having biases and prejudices and being a Christian, is obviously something I do not have a problem with.)

We’re supposed to love people. So I endeavor to do that. “Love the driver, hate the truck.”  Yeah, that’s what I say.

So my wife informs me that several months ago the pastor bought a black pickup.

As long as I haven’t actually seen it, I’ll maintain there’s no way that could be true.

Do you have any unusual biases against certain people?

March 2, 2012

So, You Think You Know That Person?

Years ago, just before an annual meeting at a local church where I was serving, a woman went to the pastor quite distraught over an article I had written in the local newspaper on some municipal issue that she didn’t think was appropriate for someone on church staff.

The pastor let her rant for awhile, and then said, “Well, say what you will, but I know his heart.”

While I appreciated his coming to my defense, I also have tried to adopt a similar attitude toward others. I need to either (a) admit I don’t know people fully, and certainly not as God does; or (b) try to get to them better, not just superficially, but get to know their heart.

So as soon as I saw this at Barry Simmons’ blog yesterday, I knew I had to share it with you.

Danger of Assuming Knowledge of Someone’s Heart

Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). However, contrary to secular society’s assumption, he was not saying that moral evaluations are off limits.  In the same Sermon on the Mount he talked about knowing someone by the fruit of their lives. What I believe He was saying is that we must be careful to apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, and with the same severity.  We should give others the same level of mercy and understanding that we want for ourselves.

He was also saying that we should not be quick to presume we know someone’s’ heart or the facts of their situation. Here’s a thought provoking list from Kevin DeYoung of things not to assume (prejudge):

Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.
Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.
Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.
Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.
Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.
Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.
Don’t assume the guy from the mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.
Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.
Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.
Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.
Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.
Don’t assume your parents are clueless.
Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.
Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.
Don’t assume the poor are lazy.
Don’t assume you know what they’re all like after meeting one or two of their kind.
Don’t assume you should read between the lines.
Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.
Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.
Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.
Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.
Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.
Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.
Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.
Don’t assume God can’t change you.
Don’t assume God can’t love you.
Don’t assume God can’t love them.

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