Defining Other People

I don’t have a specific event to blog about today. It’s more of a snowballing thought that’s been gathering momentum in my mind as I continue to watch so many aspects of American society roll around in the dirt. I continue to (try to) maintain friendships on both sides of the political spectrum, but that’s something that’s becoming increasingly difficult. Not because I don’t want to be friends with people, but because it feels like more and more, people on either side are insisting we live in a polarized world where it’s clear what’s right and what’s wrong.

It’s not enough to just define yourself these days. There’s a tendency to define people you disagree with, and more and more, some corners seem to want to define themselves by defining other people. The tendency to insist on defining others is something I’ve had a fair bit of experience with, having grown up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Mormons” were often referred to as being cult-ish and strange and deluded. When I went on my mission to Germany, I met with many people who insisted they knew my religion better than I did.

One of the more bizarre things I routinely ran into over there were the people who had confused us with the Amish somehow. I was told it was due to the Harrison Ford movie Witness. When they’d done the German translation, they’d figured not enough people knew who the Amish were in Germany. But they had heard about Mormons, so they just translated it as Mormon instead of Amish. I still haven’t seen the movie in German, and I can’t help but think that story is way off, but the fact remains that I had multiple conversations with Germans who were convinced I couldn’t use electricity.

It’s a humorous example, but it serves to illustrate my point. I know full well what my religion believes and doesn’t believe, but there was no arguing with people who were not of my faith and yet were convinced they knew better than I did. The defined me as Amish, and nothing I could say to them would persuade them otherwise.

From a religious perspective, this is something that definitely continues to day in pop culture and society at large. People who would vehemently attack anyone who would disparage someone for being Jewish or Muslim will casually deride Latter-day Saints without a second thought. You only have to dip a toe into any Reddit post that touches somehow on the religion to see the throngs of people showing up to throw stones. According to them, it seems all members of the religion are either completely duped or deluded or bigoted or sexist or [insert another slander]. As a faithful, practicing member of that religion, I can both see why some would accuse it of those things and still be hurt for having people blithely claim I’m a simpleton or a con-artist, without ever having met me.

I know my religion is not alone in this. There are people on both the left and the right who do the same thing with any religion. Evangelicals. Muslims. Catholics. Jews. What’s the result of all this name-calling? Speaking as a Latter-day Saint, it definitely has a tendency to drive believers closer together. Yes, some leave the faith, but many dig in deeper, bristling at the attack.

This post isn’t about religion, however. I see this same principle at work in the political spectrum right now. Liberals define conservatives, claiming they’re all bigots or (at best) bigot-enablers. Soulless hypocrites bent on oppressing women and minorities. Angry, sad, white people who cling to guns and religion and the empty memory of an ideal country that never existed in the first place. And what’s the result of all this defining? I only see conservatives digging in stronger. Insisting that they aren’t trying to take the vote away from minorities. They’re trying to protect free elections.

Pick any of the arguments liberals make against conservatives, and conservatives have a simple explanation for why they’re doing what they’re doing, and why they’re being unjustly accused by the other side.

This goes the other way, of course. Conservatives insist liberals are baby-killing maniacs hellbent on ripping apart the entire American way of life, tarnishing our heritage, turning us toward Communism and Socialism in an ill-conceived effort to take money away from those individuals who have earned it and give it to people who want to sit around and do nothing all day and be paid for the privilege. And once again, the liberals bristle at being defined this way, pointing out that each of those arguments is misguided and unfair.

I believe stereotyping people is wrong, and that includes stereotyping political parties. I sometimes wonder why I even try to keep writing these posts that go down the middle. They’re not generally well-received by either side, and when the posts are even tolerated, it’s not like they make a change. But when I’ve had real conversations with people on either side of the aisle, I’ve often found there are many similarities between each side. There are genuinely good people in each political party, no matter how easy it may be to want to paint with a broad brush.

The sooner we can all somehow remember that, the sooner we might start making real progress again. Until then, I worry we’ll just be caught in a never-ending loop of name calling.


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1 thought on “Defining Other People”

  1. I don’t have anything illuminating to say, but yeah. I can relate to this post. It’s nice to see opinions from the middle. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there.

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