Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Danger of You People

Last Saturday at the bookstore, a customer came in looking for a series of books. We only had it in the board book format. I looked on line and found that while some were only available in that format, I could order a couple in the regular hard cover picture book format. She wanted it for some children in a reading recovery program who would pick up a normal looking book but not something that looked to babyish. Though I offered to order it and explained it would likely arrive in 3-4 business days, she stated, "I'll buy it when you people get some sense and have it on hand!"

You people? Conversations never go well when those kind of statements are made. It's a lumping together of all the wrongs that you perceive a "group" has done and aiming the rocks at the person closest. In this case, I had no power over the way the publisher chose to market the books. Not one drop. I was more than willing to order it, but I think I simply became a representative of some larger issue that was out of my control.

The "you people" phenomenon happens on a daily basis. In some ways, it is a way that our brain tries to makes sense out of more complex things -- breaking them into larger chunks. But when we let ourselves do that, we lose sight of the individuals.

I was at my internship when 9/11 happened and didn't have access to a television. I had class that night and didn't get home until 9:30ish. That was the first time I saw the pictures of the planes and the flames and the people running. As disturbing as all of that was, the thing that disturbed me most were the pictures and sounds of civilians cheering in several countries that the mighty United States had been dealt such a blow. The hatred was evident and for some reason on that day felt intensely personal. But they wouldn't have cheered if it was their country, their friends, their family.

It doesn't have to be something as large as that. We slip into you people mode all the time. How many times have you heard statements about women drivers, different ethnic groups, different political parties, different denominations, different cultures, rival schools, rival sports teams, the poor, the uneducated, etc?

Here's another bookstore story. Several months ago, I received a call from a Christian bookstore in town and I was asked if we had a certain type of Bible. It was difficult to pull up exactly what they were targeting, so I said I would go and look in the section. We didn't have quite what they were looking for and it took me a few minutes to look. The response was, "One of these days I'm going to come in and talk to your managers about how you people organize your Bibles." I got a list of things that he thought I apparently did not know about Bibles.

Yes, I work in a secular store, but he made the faulty assumption that I didn't know one version from another, that I wasn't a Christian. As a Christian, I was put off. If he had spoken to a non christian colleague how well would that have gone over?

Jesus told the story about the good Samaritan. Even though the injured man was presumably Jewish, the priest and the Levite passed by. My guess is that they failed to see the man as a human being, an individual. If you stop for a moment look someone in the eyes, they become real in a more meaningful way. That's what the Samaritan did. He paused long enough to see a man -- not a Jew or an enemy.

I'm not immune. While I many not say, "you people" or "those people" I think that sometimes I let my thoughts slip that way. Every time I do, I dehumanize someone. So, here is to pausing and rethinking and looking in someone's eyes before deciding I can't help or that I know how they think or feel. I suspect it will make all the difference in the world.



Anonymous said...

I have a feeling those two people have a lot of "you people" in their lives.

It's a way of looking at others, like you said. It doesn't have much to do with the situation at hand.

RumorsOfGlory said...

Boy, did your article hit home with me today. I am on an online internet help site. I answered this lady's really long question and then even sent her another reply. For some reason she didn't get my reply so she gave me terrible ratings, and treated me like "you people" - and I have no way of responding to her directly. And once someone leaves a bad comment/rating, it stays there. How frustrating. If only she knew how much time and care I took to answer her question in a professional manner. I think people are much meaner behind the wheel and behind the computer screen. Ah, Papa, bring comfort.