I think the place to start is with my own biases, prejudices and insensitivities. I'm going to start with the label I gave to Hammy and me years ago: High-brow white trash. I named us that because we were the only people in our neighborhood who would ever listen to NPR or read classic literature or Utne Reader but we were also the only household to have a junk car parked in the yard for years. I still think it's a very funny label but it's also really offensive on a number of levels. White trash is just hurtful. I've tried to find a better term that describes us but nothing works that doesn't totally denigrate people who are like a bunch of my cousins. I imagine that if my cousins understood what high-brow means they'd find it funny. Maybe. It's not worth the risk of offending anyone to find out.
I'm the worst for judging others. Like many people, I'm most comfortable with strangers when I can fit them in a category, neatly labeled, so I know how to act around them. Of course, the problem is that I assume most of what I use to label them. But then I get really pissed off when people do the same with me. I'm thinking of all these instances in which I've labeled people and judged them and fit them into the boxes I thought they belonged in. I made them "THEM": The other. But...hello! We're all in this together. That whole Quaker thing about speaking to "that of God" in everyone I meet...
This finally came together for me in the smiles of two people. See, I always (well, usually) smile at everyone I meet but often I would find that the smile I gave some people, on the bus, say, or people who were obviously down on their luck, might seem like kind of a do-gooder kind of smile; you know, like "bless your heart". I didn't want to go around smiling like Glenda the Good Witch whenever I'd smile at a homeless person. I certainly don't want people to smile at me like they feel sorry for me and I can't imagine that anybody else would either. But then I met this lovely woman named Pat at a work function. Pat has one of those smiles that makes one feel like she is so happy to see you-even if you've never met her before in your life! The genuine warmth of her smile reminds me of Hector Black, the kind, loving, gentle Quaker man who also smiles from his heart. I realized that I don't have to know or assume anything about anyone in order to make them feel welcome in my life.
I've got to start working so I'll write more next chance I get. Sorry if there are editing errors!