It is fortunate to be of high birth, but it is no less so to be of such character that people do not care to know whether you are or are not.
Jean de la Bruyere (1645 – 1696)
“Pretty is…as pretty does.” How many little girls heard that growing up? I know I did more than once. Of course, it was a reminder that outward appearance ultimately does not determine true beauty, any more than social status determines one’s ultimate value.
Still, stereotypes are powerful in culture. More often than not, they determine first impressions. One can be judged by color, shape, dialect, clothing, and a host of other perceptions that have nothing to do with who they really are as human beings.
I grew up in the Deep South, during a time in our nation’s history when the issue of race was beginning to crack wide open for all to see. It was a time of upheaval and fear…a time of mistrust and misunderstanding. It was also a very confusing time for children like me, because of all the mixed messages we received. On the one hand, my sisters and I were expected to respect and mind our caregiver who was there to look after us just as we would our parents. On the other hand, even if not overtly, segregation was just understood as “the way things were.” White children did not play with black children. In fact, it wasn’t until I went away to college that I found myself in an environment where color was not a factor in whether or not I befriended someone.
Of course, as is the case with all stereotypes, we find out that most of the time, all that’s really different between people IS the stereotype. If we take the time to get to know someone well, it is not their outward difference that attracts or repels us; rather, it is their character that reveals who they really are.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek reminds us that the walls of division and animosity are built, whether based on social class, race, religious, political, etc…when we refuse to engage with each other. This is the tragedy of our world today, and unless leaders are willing to step down from places of privilege to value and connect and serve others, we will be condemned to its tragic consequence.
And here’s the thing: in this endeavor…we can all be leaders!
It is risky to take the step to move beyond stereotype to get near enough to see who a person really is. But if we do—we will often find the common humanity that reminds us that we are all precious, beloved children of God.
Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31) May our character be defined not by judging outward appearance, but by making this our rule of life.
Blessings, Pastor Susan