Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Case by case

One of our very human qualities, and one I work constantly on reminding myself is an invalid and non-useful quality, is that of stereotyping. I am positive that at some point, we have all been caught by this one, even if it was on a sub-conscious level.

Lumping every person or thing into the same category based on a set of presumed characteristics is stereotyping. As we all know well, each of us is unique, special and individual, and yet we all have this habit of "organising" the world into different categories.

I have just come back from a flying visit with my brother out in Roma (Western Queensland, Australia), and had a few of my own subconscious stereotypes thrown into my face and was asked by my team to do some thinking on what I was going to do with the new information?

Western Queensland has a harsh and unforgiving landscape, it is arid land where beautifully determined men and women make a living from the land, major mining companies work out there to extract things from the earth for human use, and of course cattle farming and crop growing are all the main areas of production out there. As I drove past open cut mines, I shed a bit of a tear while at the same time being entranced by the beauty of the rock and the colour as it sat piled in mounds. I saw cattle ranging through bushland and imagined the erosion and destruction caused by their passing...all my stereotypes came to the fore as I drove for 10 hours through this country.

While I always strive to act, live, think and interact without judgement with each person I meet, this was a bit more difficult when I was confronted with the scenarios I have described above. My PERCEPTION of what I was seeing was based only on stereotypes, not on any kind of reality.

So, I arrived at my brothers place (a cattle farmer and a bank manager...I know right?) a little unsure about what we would talk about for three days since I hadn't seen him for a long time and only spoken a few words here and there at family gatherings.

I fell back on a strategy I use in the classroom....I talked about what interested him, setting all judgements and stereotypes aside to really LISTEN to the responses to my billion and one questions about farming. I watched as I was allowed to tag along through the paddocks while he tended his cattle and did the things he knew to do but which were completely foreign to me. I spoke to his neighbours and the locals down the pub where we went for dinner, and I truly saw and heard the people behind the stereotype. I started photographing on the second day and took thousands of photos of the people, the landscape, the cattle, the fields...everything to store into my memory banks a far more accurate account of the people I had so willingly (if unknowingly) tried to fit into a particular mold.

I was unsurprised in the end to know how judgemental I had been...and the solution to it too...I walked a mile in my brother's shoes, and I knew he and I were the same.

My strategy then, to eliminate the stereotypes and boxes and categories my human brain tries to fit people into is so by case. Without judgement, and without exception, each person is a divine and blessed being, it is not my place to judge and I can avoid the trap of stereotyping by reminding myself to take each person as they present themselves to me, to love them for who they are and not who I wish they could be, or who I perceived them to be, to know that we all share the same concerns for a loving, peaceful and abundant world.

With love and light

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