As I drove along the rain-soaked pavement of Petersburg Pike on my way to work a few weeks ago I was listening to a CD created by someone I am acquainted with.
A particular song got me thinking about the labels we wear, whether self-applied or stuck there by another.
According to Mirriam-Webster, a stereotype is “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.”
We’ve all had the lessons in not judging others, of not applying our sometimes ill-formed stereotypes, haven’t we? And yet, we are guilty of it – as guilty as the day is long.
And as much as I’d say judgement of a person is for our Maker to handle, we humans are pretty generous with it at times.
To be fair, we all wear labels of some sort. Mother, father, sister, brother, friend, co-worker, etcetera.
We also wear labels not so much of our own choosing, and sometimes those are the stickiest labels of all, the ones that not even a bit of nail polish remover applied with some elbow grease can permanently banish. Worthless, slacker, screw-up, good-for-nothing, degenerate, pathetic, shameful, criminal.
That last one is one I run into a lot.
The word doesn’t mean that much to me personally, until I shift my thoughts a little bit.
A couple weeks ago I was dug in for a long day in the Highland County Common Pleas Courtroom and during one of those mental down times while the judge recites the constitutional rights of a person pleading guilty, well, I looked at that person and I thought, “God loves you.”
And then I looked all around the courtroom, to each and every face, whether potentially labeled as a seemingly law-abiding citizen or a criminal, and I thought the same.
And I was instantly connected to every one of these people, no matter their label.
It was a humbling moment for me.
My job often requires me to collect details on criminal offenses and the ones who commit those offenses, to sit in the courtroom as witnesses describe for jurors their experience and the circumstances related to the accused. I’m fairly detached from these things, these people, thinking only about fact collection, of unbiased regurgitation of the stated facts presented in the court and in public documentation.
But aren’t we all connected?
Don’t bother answering, for that was a rhetorical question.
We are all connected, and each and every one of us, no matter the labels we wear, are equally loved by God.
Stop and think about that. Just for a minute, let it sink in.
I didn’t think that I had ever been one to think too highly of myself, but that revelation in the courtroom that day made me realize that I do. While not intentionally, I separate myself from the people that I see come before the court. And I can’t help but realize that so many of us doing that, whether mindfully or not, is like a weighty stone around our necks, pulling us down and down and down.
Neighbors looking out for each other creates community, and connected communities can foster a wealth of nurturing to the kiddos. I’ll bet that connected communities can give drugs a pretty good beating, too.
The song that I listened to on that CD made me think about those labels and the consequences, how we segregate ourselves because of labels, whether we realize it or not.
I think I’ll try to think twice, or thrice, or more if that’s what it takes, from here on out about the way my thinking is going when it comes to another person.
I hope we all do.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.