I grew up in South Carolina, USA, and I currently live in Tokyo, Japan. I am well versed in religion, various cultures, and world politics.
Blanket Statements and Stereotyping
It's unfortunate that each of us have been exposed to blanket statements and stereotypes. It warps our worldviews, poisons our hearts, and blinds us to reality.
It is unfair that we have learned these things. Our family and friends growing up helped reinforce these stereotypes through jokes they learned, through fear they heard on the news, or through unfortunate personal experiences that solidified the judgment.
Sadly, all of us are also subject to bias. We tend to wear rose-colored lenses when it comes to the atrocities of our own, and we spin stories around to neglect having to face the reality of the evil brewing within our own context.
It is in this paradigm that we build walls to defend ourselves and keep the enemy away while also equipping ourselves with weapons to take out those who seemingly oppose us.
But this is all a delusion. One that is built on lies and hate, and it doesn't belong in this world.
A Journey of Growth
It would be wrong of me to not include my own story here, because being a product of the American South, I took full advantage of white privilege, I justified the racist behavior of myself and the people around me, and I held very strong opinions about different races and homosexuals because of religious views, family influence, and unfortunately, personal experiences.
I am not alone either. Many people from my context grow up very similarly, and there are rarely people in their lives that are willing to step into that type of context to help them see the error of their thinking. Discussions in this southern context are also rare, because from an early age, we are taught all kinds of rhetoric that causes us to guard and to attack.
I did not begin changing my worldview until I visited Japan for the first time in 2004. In so many ways, it was extremely healthy for me to leave the only context I have ever known to start learning about an incredibly different context. This was the start of me breaking down my walls, and I am still in the process of taking them down to this day.
I have recognized my warped worldview, I can feel the poison leaving my heart, and I have finally opened my eyes to see what really is happening before me.
The Use of Absolutes Is Wrong
The world is full of so many people. People from all walks of life. We exist alongside people with differing religious views, differing cultures, differing political strategies, and differing mindsets all around.
There are men and women and all kinds of races and ethnic backgrounds. We live alongside 7.58 billion people across 195 countries, and yet, many of us believe that men are better than women, certain people don't deserve basic rights, and certain races are lesser beings.
This clouded mindset causes us to throw entire groups of people into a box and devalue humanity as a whole, and we begin using absolutes to cast our judgment.
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What Are Absolutes?
We must recognize our vocabulary when we are speaking about people and learn to stay away from these terms:
- Always/Never. This absolute believes that at all times certain people will do certain things (e.g. He always chews with his mouth open, she never thinks of anyone but herself, etc).
- All/None. This absolute believes that entire groups can or cannot do something (e.g. All of them are great at math, None of them can read, etc).
- Everyone/No one. This absolute is more extreme than all/none, as it envelopes all people or no people (e.g. Everyone is evil, no one is capable of being good, etc).
- Impossible. This absolute believes that change or growth cannot happen (e.g. It is impossible for her to love, it is impossible for him to graduate, etc).
When we apply any of these absolutes to the world around us, we don't see people for who they actually are. We see them for what we believe them to be.
Learning to look past absolutes and stereotypes helps us to recognize incredible individuals who took a stand even at the risk of their own lives. Despite how the world viewed them, they broke free of the mold to do what they believed was right. Let's quickly take a look at three neglected heroes in recent history.
"During World War II, the Japanese were all so ruthless, scary, and unstoppable." This statement was common during and after World War II, and it caused a lot of poor reactions around the world.
However, a Japanese man named Sugihara Chiune represented Japan another way during World War II. Sugihara helped about six thousand Jews to escape Europe by issuing transit visas, allowing them to travel through Japanese territory. It was an incredibly dangerous thing to do and a huge risk to Sugihara and his family, but he had a deep compassion for these refugees and recognized the evil that was happening.
Through truly miraculous means and circumstances created through the start of the war, Sugihara was able to lead many of the refugees across the Soviet Union and then by boat to Kobe, Japan, where they created a Jewish community. Others were relocated to Shanghai, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Burma.
It was an incredibly bold and noble thing to do, especially considering Japan's position in the war and alliance with Germany.
He is the only Japanese national ever to be honored by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations for his actions.
"All of the Germans were brainwashed under Hitler's leadership. It would be impossible for them to recover." This sentiment swept most of Europe and America as World War II was coming to an end.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many other political activists stood up against the Nazi regime and refused to support them. Bonhoeffer was one of the earlier critics against the Nazis, and he became involved in The Confessing Church, a movement that fought against the nazification of the German Evangelical Church.
He once wrote;
Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization.
Bonhoeffer's stand against the Nazis to protect the Jews and the Church in Germany got him arrested in 1943 and ultimately executed in 1945 at the age of 39, mere months before the end of World War II.
As of today, not only has Germany recovered, but it is thriving as a country in so many ways. As a people, they have learned from their past and have grown tremendously. Bonhoeffer saw this possibility and died for it.
"African Americans are always wanting something else. They will never be happy with what they have." This is something I sadly believed in and something I heard a lot while growing up in the American South.
Claudette Colvin was only 15-years-old when she was arrested for refusing to give up a bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. This took place nine months before the more famous Rosa Parks situation. She knew well what was happening, and she was willing to be a criminal in the country she loves in order to make America a safer place for her people.
At 16-years-old, while still in high school, she was one of the five plaintiffs in the federal court case, Browder v. Gayle. She was the last witness to testify before three judges in the United States District Court, and on June 13, 1956, the judges determined that the state and local laws were unconstitutional. It went to the Supreme Court on appeal by the state of Alabama, and it upheld the initial ruling on December 17, 1956.
Colvin's story was the catalyst for rectifying bus segregation laws in the United States, and this is recognized as one of the pioneering moments in the Civil Rights Movement. She had to face ridicule and all kinds of danger, but at a young age, she decided that the rights of her people were more important than her well being.
The Process of Healing
Learning to recognize blanket statements and absolutes will help us to see the flaws in our own thinking. It will help us to connect better with the people around us and to love and appreciate them for who they actually are on the inside.
Correcting Our Worldview
We need to constantly be reminded that the world is huge and full of all kinds of people, cultures, religions, values, and thinking. Our way is not the only way. Our way is not necessary the best way. Our way is simply a way, and that is okay.
Entering into a new place and appreciating it helps us to eliminate immediate critical thinking. We can then begin seeing the outside as different as opposed to wrong. We can fall in love with cultures that are not our own. We can borrow certain religious practices and values into our hearts, and we can even apply certain thoughts to help create our own unique thinking.
Cleansing Our Hearts
It is an incredibly painful process to drain the poison from our hearts. It requires us to look in the mirror, acknowledge stereotypes and judgments we have lurking inside, and learn how to cleanse them from our system.
A cleansed heart is able to feel others correctly. It helps us to look past the surface, love unconditionally, and empathize in a way that actually brings healing to others.
Opening Our Eyes
Most of us can only see our own context clearly. We are blinded to the struggles, difficulties, and problems around us, but if we are to open our eyes and unmistakably recognize the situation of others, we become exposed to contexts outside of our own.
Open eyes help the mind to process things better and begin the road of learning how to understand other contexts around us.
My hope is for us to break these chains together, end these lies, and put a stop to the use of blanket statements, absolutes, and stereotypes. For our world to truly progress, we need to stop this horrible way of thinking and end this chapter of separation for good, because it is wrong. It was wrong then, it is wrong now, and it will forever be wrong.