“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Aldous Huxley
There is a street in my neighborhood that I use as a convenient cut-through from a major street onto the road that runs to my subdivision. The street has modest houses on it and a small park. Just before I reach the park is a house that always attracts my attention.
The house and yard are similar to those around it but it is quite different in one way. It has lots of “junk” in the yard including a group of shovels, hoes, pitch forks, and other items surrounding and tied to the mailbox. Other miscellaneous items are grouped in different areas of the lawn – not just dumped there, put arranged in a somewhat artistic order.
I know there is at least one man who lives there because I’ve seen him working in the yard in his jeans and hat. As I drive by, I scan the yard to see what new items may have been added. I think, “A ‘red neck’ must live here” and smile to myself as if this is a joke. “Still, he is rather creative.”
Perceptions Not Based On Reality
But yesterday as I approached the house, I saw the heaps of things on the lawn and thought, “I bet he’s a “red neck.” Then I hit the brakes. Hanging underneath the mailbox was a sign, Black Lives Matter. I was stunned. Clearly, I had made a very wrong judgement about the man who lived there.
Then I realized that I was perceiving “red necks” as racist. I was shocked. I’m not a racist. Even as a child growing up in the South with a racist father, I had a mother who taught me to care about all people and see them as equals. I’ve taught Black and Native American teenagers and loved and nurtured them when dealing with administrations who couldn’t have cared less about them.
Defining People Who Differ From Us
But this time the sign’s message slapped me in the face so that I could not avoid the reality that my perception of a person I had never met was tainted with cultural prejudice. What did I mean by “red neck?” Well to be honest, I see that as a person who is rural, uneducated, very conservative and narrow-minded. But of course, I’m not prejudiced!
I explored my thoughts further. In my mind “red necks” were white people who attacked black people, carried guns, and wanted to fight anyone who disagreed with them.
So what did I know about the man in the house with the Black Lives Matter sign? Mary Browne once said, “Preconceived notions are the locks on the door to wisdom.” I had decided who this man was when I had only my perception to guide me and I had clearly gone down a back alley.
I think of myself as a liberal, open-minded person, yet my perception had veered into a place that shocked me. As I continue to think about this incident, I feel humbled by the experience. I’m not so different after all. I have a weakness for imagining another’s life with only superficial information. How often do we all do that?
Changing To Create Equality
Now is a critical time. How many of us who are white think we know what racial justice looks like when we have never been racism’s target? Fortunately, the present protests and actions around racism have taken on a new power to educate us and hopefully will change the structures of our nation to create true equality. It is a potent time for us all to explore in depth our own thinking and clean out the muck!
As Mary Browne suggested, it is time not to judge so that we can open the locked doors of our preconceived notions and allow wisdom to enter. It is time for us to find peace and experience love for all humans, knowing that there is a reason why people feel as they do based on what they have experienced in life.
I will probably never meet the man whose sign stunned me, but I don’t have to. I just have to remember to open my mind to all possibilities so that wisdom can enter.
©2020 Georganne Spruce