Don’t you sometimes wonder where our attitudes and beliefs originate? Whether you agree or not, people are basically a product of their environment, cultures and beliefs.
‘Tis from these same sources that stereotypes are cemented into our souls. It is widely acknowledged that as little kids our brains function like a sponge. As a result we ‘soak’ up everything we see, hear, smell, touch and perceive. Anyone who has been around a baby or toddler can definitely relate to this. It is a beautiful thing.
If the ‘tabula rasa’ theorists are correct, it means (at least as toddlers) that we are programmed to function (in behaviour and thought) like those (parents, teachers, our society) who influence us. This should not be shocking news! However, our response to (and expectations from) ‘others’ who are not ‘like’ us begs this understanding.
If we have indeed grasped the concept (of tabula rasa), then why do we focus on changing the individuals or the practices that create the individual? My answer? Because it is easier, sort of like a “divide and rule” concept.
What can we do if someone else’s beliefs and practices offend our sensibilities and vice versa? What if they claim (and with proof) that their cultures were bequeath to them by their forebears? How do we defend our actions if we disagree and try to change them?
These questions have been asked before, although no satisfactory answers have been proposed to all of them. Is it just a simple matter of who is right? I don’t think so.
Someone recently asked me this, “Are you a black or white person?” In the context of our conversation, this question did not have any racial undertones. What my questioner was probing were my perceptions of ‘things’ around me? Basically, she was asking; “do you believe things are either good or bad?” If she had asked me this same question a decade ago, I would no doubt have offered a resounding yes. But that afternoon I simply responded “neither”. I went on to further explain that I no longer just categorized anything in such a simplistic way. In doing so, I might have projected an image that some have described as a person who is neither here nor there, someone who holds no solid viewpoints.
The truth is the world is neither “black nor white”. If anything, it is very heterogeneous in most aspects, especially with regards to the people who live in it. Some of our beliefs are as further apart as the North pole is from the South pole (trust me, I know, I have lived on both ends). Therefore, we should expect as little convergence in our motives, thoughts and actions as possible. I often ask, is it in our best interests to continue to define others through our own perceptions and see them through our ‘coloured lenses’?
Let us therefore be realistic. We will never all think and act in the same manner period! So what can we do?
i. For starters, accept everyone as they are (good or bad).
ii. Attempt, in good faith to understand what makes them who they are.
iii. Open up on your own beliefs.
iv. Finally, find some common ground (if none, agree to live in peace).
Forget all you were taught about other people different from you. Don’t be too quick to trust the ‘experts’ or believe every and anything that has been written in a book (or on a blog such as this). Remember all of us are products of our environments (whether good or bad) and were taught and influenced by others (a la tabula rasa).
Position yourself, but not in a place of judgement as you make decisions that will impact your life and your community. Respond to others from a respectable place and demand the same from them.
Remember, we are neither ‘black nor white’ so there is no need to act as though we are.