Sunday, June 25, 2017

Untargeted: Why We're Wrong About Everyone

As part of an ongoing series exploring privilege and my journey to shedding it, I offer this first installment, a baseline if you will for taking a step toward understanding. Ironically, I see this first step as acknowledging that it's impossible.  And, oddly, how that's a very good thing. 

Of course, all this is merely a wandering exploration of my own understanding.  Renowned sociologists will probably pick me apart.  But that's okay.  

Humans are the strangest of creatures.  We are studies in contradiction.  We draw much of our identity from the groups we inhabit: cultural, professional, societal, and familial, among others.  And, as members of a group, if part of its collective identity is attacked, we cleave to it more strongly to protect our own.  Even "anti-groups" like the Punk Rock movement drew and aligned their identity to the collective.  Having an "us" is the ultimate survival mechanism.  

However, flip that scenario and assume that I, as a member of a group, am DEFINED by the group, and I will, almost reflexively, reject that assumption.  "You don't know me!" I'll say.  And it's true.  Although I'm a (proud) veteran, assuming that I hold certain attitudes or beliefs based on that one fact will provoke a reaction.  Nobody likes to be pigeon-holed.  

Rashida Jones
My statistics teacher taught me something that always stuck with me.  He said "all models are wrong; some are useful."  As a tool for achieving insight, models are incredibly valuable when looking at large groups.  But modelers know that their product is "precisely wrong."  We know that our population lies within +/- 3% of whatever we are stating.  But nobody is an "exact fit."  Now, as I constantly work to unravel my preconceived filters and biases, I realize that this rule is true in a hundred different ways at the same time.  None of us are exactly anything, but simultaneously ALMOST dozens of things.  Which of them is in the proverbial driver's seat at any given time is subject to change, and often a product of our environment.  

So, no matter how much we study, no matter how much we learn, we'll never be right about anyone.  Some see this as a reason to throw their hands up.  But I think it's the basis for a really profound understanding.  We are many things. We are OF many things.  We draw on those histories and traditions as a source of strength (and, sometimes shame).  But, even though I am all of those, in the end, I am uniquely ME, an individual that draws from the collective, but is not defined by it.  And, my friend, so are you.  

So the next time you catch yourself asking "how could a (woman/person of color/LGBTQ person) support her or him or THAT?" check your filters.  And so will I.  It's a start. 

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