An Occupy Wall Street demonstrator raises her hands painted with hearts in New York

When we lack compassion

By Zachary Kemp

Compassionate_hands

Have you ever felt defined by a certain characteristic? Maybe you evaluated someone based on the way they looked, acted, or spoke? First impressions play a bigger role than we realize. It takes each of us only seven seconds to make up our mind about someone new.

This is inevitable, and is neither right nor wrong. Rather, the harm comes from the preconceptions we hold. Preconceptions tell a lot about a society. They represent what we are encouraged to value, taught to distrust, and have learned to fear.

A few weeks ago I sat in on a local Bellingham court session. I consider myself a fairly socially minded person, which is why I was surprised to find myself coming to critical conclusions about the “offenders” being tried. Their appearances, attitudes, tattoos and profanities added to my overall feelings of mistrust and judgment.

Struggling to fight back that reaction, I realized just how much socially-encouraged prejudices shape our views of others. The reality is I had never met a single one of those men or women. Their pasts, burdens, and struggles remain a mystery.

Pervasive prejudgment has an obvious effect on the way we think and interact with the world. Our unwillingness to understand and eagerness to condemn has bred a culture of discrimination. With this unfortunate reality, it should be no surprise that homophobia, religious intolerance, racial bigotry–the list goes on and on–exist in excess.

It is not difficult to realize the social damage incurred when we buy into preconceptions. These mindsets destroy communities and lives. Next time you find yourself analyzing someone, giving into prejudices and assumptions, pause and question what you are thinking, and why you are thinking it.

Let’s go back to the story about the courthouse. I look back on that experience and am determined to challenge the reflexive preconceptions in my own thinking. Everyone, and I mean everyone, no matter their past, economic condition, skin color, sexual orientation, or “criminal offenses” deserves a basic level of decency and respect. If we want change, if we want to alter our culture of discrimination and prejudice, the responsibility falls on us.

Our generation, you and I, has made obvious progress in this area. But we have only just begun to reverse the trajectory. The message then is simple: live intentionally, hopefully compassionately, and always lovingly.


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