In the movie, Date Night, Claire and Phil Foster (played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell) make up stories about some of the people they see. Claire and Phil are not the only ones who have done that, are they?
Sitting on a stone wall, people watching, folks can entertain themselves for hours by making up stories about the strangers that go by. The stories are informed by the strangers’ appearances, speech, facial expressions, gait, height, weight, and age. Some stories rely on stereotypes, others on going against stereotypes. Making up stories about the people we see can be rather harmless fun.
On the other hand, making up stories about strangers is not always benign. Relying on falsehoods, people have been known to make up malicious stories about strangers. Rooted in lies, untruths, and harmful stereotypes, some stories lead to malicious and deadly actions against the people about whom the stories are made up.
Questioning stereotypes and assumptions counters falsehoods, prejudgments based on them, and the notion that the whole lot of “them” must be dealt with severely.
Thinking about difficult issues from various angles and perspectives results in the development of a fuller, more four-dimensional, moving picture of them, and of the people involved. It creates room for malicious thought to dissipate. Starting from the viewpoint that no one has more and no one has less value than another human being can help people let go of feelings of superiority and inferiority.
Having the viewpoint that each person has, or should have, equal agency, can help set aside the desire to control another person. These things are not always easy to do, and some people might be uneasy testing them out. Nonetheless, getting rid of baseless assumptions and stereotypes, and forming a more holistic way of thinking about the world, are worth it.
Rev Jim Sinclair
Pastor Jim is the minister for First United Baptist Church