Monday, April 01, 2013

What's in a name?...

    When I was student at Millville Grade School, it seemed like just about everybody there had a nickname. I wasn’t always sure why.  It wasn’t that the nicknames were always shorter, or easier to spell or pronounce than the person’s given name. Sometimes I didn’t know what the names represented, like Ginky or Crowbar. Sometimes they were simpler, more descriptive, and easier to relate to the individual, like Tubby, Slim, Stretch, or my old buddy Stinky Wilmont.

  Even if you had never met the person, if you heard someone talking about Tubby, you probably got the idea that he was on the heavy side, just like you would probably get the idea that Slim wasn’t. You could probably also guess that Stretch was one of the taller students, and the name Stinky offered more than one possibility, probably none all that pleasant.

  WhiIe I don’t suppose there is anything inherently wrong with nicknames, I think sometimes the more descriptive ones tend to narrow our view of that person, or persons. Years ago, and hopefully to a lesser extent today, certain nationalities and ethnicities were grouped together and associated, good or bad, with certain traits or behaviors. Some groups were imagined to be hard-working or lazy, some prone to drunkenness or crime, and some frugal or spend thrifty. In reality, any group of people is actually a group of individuals, and regardless of which group they belong to, most individuals are usually “just folks”.  

  I saw a chart the other day that listed various types of conservatives, and then described their opinions on various issues of the day in one or two words. Probably a lot of my liberal leaning friends would get a chuckle from it. I don’t imagine most of my conservative leaning friends would find the humor.

  No doubt it’s easier to dismiss thoughts we find disagreeable by attributing them to a group of people, and then dismissing the entire group. If you read the editorial page, you have probably noticed a barrage of letters lately claiming that people in favor of charter schools are out to ruin public schools, along with another barrage of letters claiming people who oppose charter schools support mediocrity in education. Like many of you, I know people who support charter schools to various degrees, and I don’t think hardly any of them want to destroy public schools. I also know people who oppose charter schools to various degrees, and hardly any of them support mediocrity.

  I’ve heard and read a lot of single word descriptions for people who support gun rights, just as I’ve heard a lot of single word descriptions for people who support more controls over gun rights. The same thing happens when people describe proponents of a more limited federal government, and it happens again when those proponents of a more limited government describe proponents of a less limited government.

  Of course we would all like to believe that people we share opinions with are more complex and learned than the people we disagree with. It makes it easier to justify a “one size fits all” government and the “one size fits all” laws that accompany it.

  But in the end, even if we don’t want to admit it, we probably agree quite a bit with the same people we disagree with quite a bit. Enough so that we should be willing to give the folks we disagree with almost as much consideration as the folks we agree with. After all, they’re just folks.

  It’s not all that complicated, but it’s not all that simple, either.


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