After teaching today I received this email from one of my students,
“You mentioned the negative stereotyping of athletes as poor students in class today, and it reminded me of my experience with my brother. He has been very athletic and played four sports in high school. I have been a bit less involved in athletics and more involved in arts and sciences, but my participation in those communities led me to believe that they were strongly opposed to athletes’ involvement and did think that they were all “blockheads” (especially football players, and surprisingly the stereotype was much more targeted at males than females.) I didn’t understand for a long time why people who had never met my brother felt so free to insult his intelligence usually without realizing that they were doing so, but I have since met more artists and science majors who participated in sports and do not cling to this terrible stereotype. My brother is actually very smart and is currently living in NYC to complete his medical degree in podiatry school. I thought that you might be interested in hearing this. Thanks for another class of Sheer Delight.”
This is an example of why I love to do what I do. I enjoy challenging people to think. It was C.S. Lewis who observed, that where we stand determines what we see. In other words, how we perceive the world has a great deal to do with what is going on inside of us. The sum of all of our experiences to date, plus the people we meet, interact with and the information we read and consume impact how we perceive others and how we perceive the world. And this is subject to change.
Also, what we say about others can reveal a great deal about ourselves. I think we tend to condemn in others the things that we hate the most about ourselves. It is difficult for me to think of all the times I’ve lashed out at others and I was really upset with myself. I struggle with so many insecurities. I’m a hurting person. I’m a broken person. We are all broken people. But as Brené Brown puts it, “Empathy covers shame.” It is very easy for most of us to dismiss others because of our predispositions against them. To think the athlete unqualified academically. To assume the worst about a person of color. To think that someone who believes differently than us is doomed. But if we would take a moment and simply try to understand, I believe that this would make the world a much better place.
At times I feel so overwhelmed with the world and with myself. Lost. And make no mistake, lost is not a state of in-existence. Rather it is a state of existence without direction, trajectory, or destination. I think of the times I have judged others harshly for not having everything figured out, for not having life together, but now I often find myself in the same state of affairs. A benefit of living long enough in this world is that you come to realize that you’re not as special or unique as you once thought. Maturity affords you the benefit of knowing how much you don’t know.
But I take solace in understanding that just as athletes should not be stereotyped as less than intellectually capable of academic successes, neither should fifty year old males be assumed to have it all together. Because I certainly don’t. Give me space. I’m still a work in progress.
How are you doing today? At least it’s Friday. But still 2020.