Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just because it wasn't your experience, doesn't mean it didn't happen

As I've mentioned in various places/posts/comments before, I'm very interested in the dynamic between self and other. It's so easy, as a person, as a community to identify with certain people (as the "self") and exclude other people as the "other". Identifying yourself as "the not x". X can stand for whatever identification/characteristic you would like.

Just because I go to a restaurant and have a good experience (food is prompt, service is the right mix of attentive, everything is clean) doesn't mean that someone else can't go to the same restaurant and have a really bad experience. Many factors separate each experience, not the least of which might be time and personnel. Was either experience invalid? No.

Each person can also have a completely different perception based on their socio-economic/familial background. I was amazed at the McDonald's in Moscow in the mid-90s. The attentiveness of the staff, the cleanliness was completely different than the McDonald's in my hometown. Part of that had to do with the pay scale (you could buy more in Russia, presumably, working at McDonald's) and part had to do with societal perception. Working at McDonald's was seen as a "good" job, whereas working as McDonald's in my hometown was something you attempted to avoid.

What I'm saying is, what seems like "good" service at a restaurant to one person is not good service to another. And the standards are wildly different depending on many various cultural factors.

Each perspective, each point of view may or may not be accurate. Each person should have to defend their perceptions, actions and reactions. Memory is notorious flimsy and subject to influence.

With that said, just because one person in a group experienced something at a certain time and place, and another person in that same group did not (at a different time and place) - doesn't mean that it didn't happen. It doesn't mean that it did happen either, or that offense was conscious and intended.

I'm talking here specifically about discrimination based on religious preferences, gender, race, education, etc.. And different actions (someone's comments at a cocktail party, an employee firing, a professor getting tenure) may or may not be due to discrimination. It may be personal. It might not be.

It's just fluid. And very, very difficult to pin down. I believe it's still worthwhile and important though.

If we keep the lines of communication open - we can work towards respect and understanding. We can work towards healing. If we offhandedly dismiss an experience, it does an injustice to that person, and may promote the discrimination. The reverse is also true, of course, that we can mistakenly identify discrimination when none was there. That's just as harmful - as it can create doubt and paranoia. My argument is simply that these issues are not black and white - there is a range of gray to understand each experience. Often I feel forced into one camp or the other, when in reality so much of life is lived in the grey.

1 comment:

Freckle Face Girl said...

You are so right. It is so funny how most of the time we are so sure of ourselves and completely convinced that in our own little absolute truth, when it really is all about perspective. There are so many incidents when we judge a situation based on our understanding of life.
A few years ago, my husband got fired from a job because a guy convinced the BIG Boss, who was Hispanic, that he was racist against Hispanics. I was completely shocked because he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. For several weeks before that happened, my husband had been complaining about that guy being lazy. Since my husband was on his case all the time, he decided that it had to do with race rather than productivity. It really is all about perspective.