I can remember from an early age wondering why people were afraid of so many things. Most of the things they seemed afraid of, being unpopular, being judged negatively by other people, failure in some way, seemed to me to be controllable by oneself. If people were not fond of you or judged you for your appearance, your financial state, your speech, etc., those were things you could choose to be concerned with or not. Failure was something that was subjective.
As difficult as one might find it to believe now I was a very quiet child. I spent much more time observing people and their behavior than interacting with them. I was born with a tendency to observe and analyze, accurately or not. So, I found out early that many people agonized over things that either turned out to be irrelevant or that were only marginally important to their well being.
In my day, before we had social media, the way your peers weighed in on your social status was through a “Slam Book”. They were forbidden in schools , of course, so you used a steno pad to make it look like your regular school supplies.Your name was placed on the top of a sheet and people wrote comments , complimentary or negative, about you anonymously. The books were hot items, and many people poured over the entries under their name to see what their classmates thought of them. One both wanted one’s name on the top of a sheet, which indicated a certain amount of status, and feared it. There were often both smiles and tears generated by the comments made.
I now look at America and see that much of our society has turned into a kind of giant slam book, particularly in politics. The same kind of motivation is used to make people either popular or disdained, to determine who is good and who is bad, what is good and what is bad.
Simplistic analyses of people, individuals, and groups is common. This kind of person is a racist, this kind is a socialist , this kind is a white supremacist, this kind is a thug. The complexity of human beings is ignored in attempts to make us afraid of other Americans that politicians can then promise to save us from.
I always told my students that if any person ever approached them and began to tell them what “ those people” do, think, believe, that they were to run away as fast as they could because there is no such thing as “those people.” Human beings are not able to be classified because of individual characteristics in any relevant way. Unless you know all of “those people” personally saying what they are or aren’t is simply expressing your own views and biases.
We are, however, still susceptible to the slam books of society. “Those people” are dangerous to us, to our futures, to our families, to our pocketbooks, to our culture. Much of what we view as hate in this country is actually fear of difference and the prospect that those who are different from us might gain some kind of power over us, insist we be like them.
It is time to put away the slam books and begin to look at things, and people, objectively and rationally. We are all more alike than we are different. I used to wish that we would be invaded from outer space by some alien life form so we could all see the commonalities rather than the differences, but I am afraid any rational alien would avoid this planet like the plague at the current time. So, we need to do it ourselves. Ask yourself why you believe what someone says about “those people.” What proof do they offer? Check out the claims yourself. Facts have to trump beliefs, prejudices, opinions.
We have to be able to rely on each other, Lincoln said it well, “A house divided cannot stand.”
Our house is wobbling.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County, Ohio resident and guest columnist. This column shared through the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.