Life Matters

Here’s something I take to be truthful and self-evident. I believe it to the level of conviction. I’m so certain of it, I believe it should be codified in something like a philosophical law. It’s this:

Every stereotype breaks down at the level of the individual.

To prove the point, we don’t even need to use people as an example. We can just as easily use cats instead. So, what do we know about cats?

  • We know they’re finicky.
  • We know they typically avoid people, especially strangers.
  • We know they don’t typically play as dogs do.
  • Most surely, we know they hate dogs.

With that as a profile, we’ve pretty much summed up the stereotypical cat. Well, as Grandpa O’Brien loved to say, “It’s the exception that proves the rule.”

As proof of Grandpa’s notion, say hello to Exhibit A: Sammy.

In none of the Cat Dictionaries Sammy owns does the word, finicky, appear. With the exceptions of vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, and anything else that makes loud noises, Sammy loves everything and everyone. Rather than avoiding people, Sammy runs to them. When the doorbell rings, he bolts to the door, not into hiding. And if you enter our home and make eye contact with Sammy, you WILL be on the hook to deliver a lengthy belly rub.

Sammy loves to play fetch with rubber bands. If you shoot one across the room, he’ll go get it, bring it back, drop it at your feet, and wait forever if he has to until you shoot it across the room again. And as many times as we’ve tried to teach him — inveigled him in an effort to convince him — it’s his job to hate dogs, he’s just as consistently refused to get the memo. (Truth be told, Eddie seems just as happy about that.)

The Moral of the Story

Every stereotype comes from somewhere. They’re not utter fabrications. Like clichés, there are kernels of truth at the heart of every one of them. But they all break down — every single one of them breaks down — at the level of the individual. That’s the power of communication. And that’s the danger in group identities and identity politics.

None of us is all this or all that. We can only learn about — and learn to respect — our differences by talking to each other.

Talk to each other. Life matters.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. Through dialogue, we have the opportunity to penetrate the superficialities and defenses that we usually shield ourselves from. We listen to each other and respond to each other with an authenticity that helps to forge bonds between us. Building ties, building bridges: in a time so problematic in many ways, there could be no more noble and important goal.