One of the personality traits that I struggle to forgive the most is snobbery, in myself as well as others. I used to live with the illusion that I was immune from this particular sin. (This kind of arrogance is the first sign that you need to get real.)
Judgement is the universal sin
Back when I bought into the “open-mindedness” myth, I believed that I accepted everyone without qualification. The truth is, having a set of personal values and maintaining an identity creates a paradox in which open-mindedness is impossible.
Since no two people are exactly alike, there is no way any of us can agree on every single issue. The only way that open-mindedness can exist is to give up your values and identity in order to conform to whoever you happen to be with at the moment, which requires you to sacrifice your integrity.
A person who values open-mindedness must sacrifice their identity in order to conform to others. Judgement is a natural human inclination – the universal sin that we all commit simply by virtue of having a set of moral standards and an identity.
Instead, value self-awareness
Rather than seeking to be “open-minded,” a better goal is to dig deep to identify our own bias, and actively live our lives to educate ourselves against these biases.
Recognizing our own bias requires us to get very real about who we are, where we come from, and what impact our temperament and experiences have had on our values and identity. This is where Redefining Love comes in, since in order to redefine love, we must first be accountable for who we are and what we believe so that we can set boundaries.
(As a reminder, boundaries determine where one person ends and the other begins. In order to define our boundaries, we must become very self-aware, owning our values, beliefs, interests, and personal space in the world.)
Which category do you fit into?
Once we set boundaries and become accountable for our own actions and those of others, we create a space in the order of things that defines us. We learn to love ourselves and our place in the world, wherever that may be.
We own our story, and appreciate our temperament and experiences for the role they play in creating the person we have become.
It is human nature to fit ourselves and others into categories. We do this to maintain order in both our internal and external worlds. We pursue education and careers, join social groups, support causes, attend religious services, and make our homes in communities that best suit our identities.
We develop a notion of “otherness” towards those we do not know or understand. Try as some of us might, no one lifetime is long enough to experience everything, learn everything, and go everywhere.
Even the most loving person must set limits based on their values. Naturally then, whether we are aware of it or not, we develop a belief that our way of doing things is best.
There are as many different kinds of snobs as there are ways of being: Intellectual, religious, financial, social, racial, ethnic, rural, urban, professional, health, gender, political – every single one of us fits into these categories somewhere, somehow.
Here’s a personal example:
I hate cigarette smoke. It gives me a migraine. In addition, I have an autoimmune disease that affects my lungs. Walking through a cloud of cigarette smoke leaves me gasping for air.
Long before my condition was diagnosed, I developed the notion that cigarettes were evil. It wasn’t rational, and wasn’t even a conscious opinion. If you’d have asked me if I felt people who smoke were evil I’d have laughed. Of course not!
But the extreme physical reaction I had to cigarette smoke affected me on a subconscious level. I didn’t know why I hated cigarettes because I hadn’t really thought much about it one way or another. I just knew that I hated them.
I used to work in an office on the ground floor of a building that housed social services offices on the upper floors. Now, keep in mind I was once a social worker (although I wasn’t working in social work at the time). I felt compassion for those who utilized the services offered in the building.
However, there was one woman who frequented the office that I simply could not stand. Every day she stood right outside the door of the building and smoked a cigarette before going upstairs. The thing that bothered me the most about this woman was that she was pregnant.
Guys, I judged this lady. So hard. I created this entire narrative about her circumstances, about “the kind of person she was.”
This woman taught me such a valuable lesson. I left that job over five years ago. But I carried the guilt of my unfair judgement with me for years, until I finally identified my own bias against cigarettes and intentionally sought to fight against it.
My issue wasn’t with the woman. It was with cigarette smoke, which stems from my own physical condition.
The root of bias
Our biases are rooted in fear – fear of the unknown, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of being hurt in ways we’ve been hurt by similar experiences in the past. Often, our biases stem from messages we received about other categories from people we respected in our youth.
These messages were usually based on messages they received from people they respected or negative experiences these individuals had, and are usually not based on fact or representative of the group as a whole, but rather specific individuals within that group. Biases can also be created or reinforced by the Media.
Most bias is rooted in generational shame cycles that developed long before we were born within our individual categories or cultures.
Self-love comes first
Once I redefined love, I could choose to love the woman I’d judged, empathizing with her circumstances (whatever they may be), while setting limits to my own exposure to cigarettes.
I could maintain my own values – in this case, the belief that cigarettes are unhealthy, especially for an unborn child – while allowing someone else to their own journey and choices.
Setting boundaries and value identification are acts of self-love. And we cannot identify our own values without identifying our biases. Our values are determined based on our temperament and experiences, which also lay the foundation for our biases. Values and bias are irrefutably linked.
Once we’ve identified our biases, we can address the root cause of them, change them if possible, or own them when it is something we cannot change.
For example, I cannot change my health to better tolerate cigarette smoke. But I can be aware of my own bias and be mindful of the root of my reaction when exposed to cigarette smoke. Once I am aware of the root, I know that my issue is not with the person smoking, but with my own physical reaction to it.
Loving through our bias
Once we have identified our bias, loving others in spite of our differences becomes much easier. We recognize that we have a set of beliefs and values about the world that are inextricably linked to our identity. And this is okay!
Inevitably we will encounter people who make choices contrary to our own values. When this happens, rather than giving in to anger and judgement, we can recognize that they have come to a different conclusion based on their own temperament and experiences.
We can separate the individual from our own biases, address our bias, and love the person in spite of our differences, while at the same time setting appropriate boundaries based on our values to do what is best for our own identity.
By redefining love, we can love ourselves through our bias, love others in spite of our differences, and eliminate snobbery from our lives.
Published July 29, 2019