When I was young my mother used to make us jams, preserves and pickles. This was our favorite time of year growing up. She would be careful to wash the jars ready them for these wonderful goodies…Once the jellies were ready she would fill each jar, top it with wax, clean again and then label each carefully – taking pains to mark the date and contents of each. Each label would tell us later when it would be ready and what to expect.
When we label people it usually does not turn out so sweet…Suddenly people - our neighbors, the bank teller or even someone’s brother or sister become a condition, a stereotype or worse we assume a full identity without even as much as a conversation with them.
Mayer Shevin says it so much than I ever could in the poem The Language of Us and Them.
We like things.
They fixate on objects.
We try to make friends.
They display attention seeking behaviour.
We take a break.
They display off-task behaviours.
We stand up for ourselves. They are non-compliant.
We have hobbies.
We choose our friends wisely.
They display poor socialization.
We have talents.
They have splinter skills.
We change our minds.
They have short attention spans.
We are human.
The idea of identifying people based on color, creed or any other physical appearance is not new nor even all that creative. Philosophers, policymakers, educators and the rest of us have recognized the need for some sensitivity when addressing the “them”.
Whether we are talking about people who may have a mental disorder, a physical disability or perhaps dress according to religious/cultural norms outside of our own, we tend to form our opinion based on group rather than on the individual. Thus the language of “Us and Them” further divides people more than the circumstances of our human context. Mayer Shevin reminds us that our experiences as humans are not dissimilar only the perception of these varies.
Another philosopher said it better than I: “We do not see thing as they are, we see things as we are.” Anaïs Nin
It is so easy to walk through our daily lives and judge those around us by the limited experiences than we have without taking the time to get to know these individuals or have the patience to and understanding to empathize with their experience as it relates to them.
It becomes challenging to remember that the person with the visible “attribute” or the underlying condition not-so-visible must be considered with the same thought and careful regard as we would want for ourselves, our brother or sister.
With this careful regard we may have a chance at breaking the barriers built with the language of “Us” and “Them.”
“Keeping Health in Mind” is a monthly newspaper column made possible with the help of the Lannin Business Centre, the Winchester Press and brought to you in part by: The Mental Health Programs of the Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall.