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.