I pride myself on being open-minded about different beliefs; however, recently I was reminded that I still have my own biases, too.
I was having a conversation with an extraordinary woman. She’s successful, sympathetic and so full of life. Toward the end of our chat, she mentioned her political beliefs, specifically regarding gun control, which differ drastically from mine. I was taken aback not by her views, but because I didn’t expect to get along that well with someone who thinks the way she does.
I had assumed people with her specific set of beliefs were all the same.
Unfortunately, almost everyone does what I did. We generalize, even reject, certain groups of people before we even talk to them. We assume negative traits about them, and, therefore, shut down any chance of connecting.
We see extreme examples of conservatives, liberals, Christians and Muslims on television and associate their behaviors with those of anyone who identifies with the same title. It goes beyond politics and religion, too. We do this with people of different races, citizenship statuses, geographies and lifestyles.
From the time I introduced myself to when we finished talking, that woman didn’t change as a person. All that changed was what I knew about her.
Here I thought I was living my life with an open mind and accepting those who are different than me. I’ve even been critical of those who are blatantly close-minded. However, in that moment, after connecting with someone who thinks so differently than I do about an issue, I realized how hypocritical I can be.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but if I had known this woman’s political beliefs before I had spoken with her, I’m worried I would’ve been less accepting of her. I would’ve decided on her character before giving her a chance to show me who she was.
Instead, I focused on how she laughed with her whole body and how she made me smile. I didn’t hesitate to open up to her. I didn’t treat her as any different from me. Funny how a simple conversation made me realize my own faults.
Everyone has done what I did. Generalization and bias are part of being human. But this inherent bias is widening the divide between us. And it’s that divide that is keeping us from moving forward as a society.
I don’t plan on changing my political beliefs or trying to change that woman’s. We are two people who think differently and that is okay. There is more to us than our labels.
We are all human, no matter our beliefs, situations or physical characteristics. There’s a way to find common ground, to respect each other.
All it requires is stepping beyond ourselves and being willing to see our own faults and respecting other’s. Only then will we find common ground; ground we can use to begin filling the divide.