We all have prejudices. It’s an evolutionary trait. It can be as simple as “spicy foods don’t agree with me”, or more complex, like “my girlfriend left me for a guy with red hair, so now I don’t trust people with red hair”.
I’m more interested in the latter, not that a girlfriend ever left me for a guy with red hair, just the concept of undeserved judgement. A good deal of generational prejudice springs from what children see in their parents, and a fair amount of parents do things they don’t understand.
I spend my days wondering how people can be so mean to each other. Maybe not so much how as why. I know how. I’ve known people who couldn’t learn from their own mistakes, usually because they can’t admit to their own mistakes. I used to think such people were stupid, or masochists. Now it occurs to me that such people are the catalysts for the rest of us to do better. I no longer pity the wankers, I’m thankful for them.
When my grandfather was very young, shotgun shells used black powder, prior to the popular use of smokeless powder, or “cordite”. As kids, they would open shotgun shells, place the powder in their hand, and ignite it. The powder would flash, like an old time camera flash. Black powder essentially explodes, leaving little residue. When the first kid with a cordite shell tried igniting the powder, it just burned. Right into the kid’s hand. My grandfather said other kids tried it (I suspect not too many), but seeing the first one was enough for him. He would tell that story when talking about learning from your own mistakes. He had gone one better, learning from other people’s mistakes.
There are people, though, who learn from their mistakes, but pick up the wrong lesson. From personal pain they learn to induce pain in others. Either because nothing can make their lives brighter, or because of some failed sense that sharing pain will make theirs bearable. This is where we get to the guy with red hair, or rather, the jilted boyfriend.
Filled with anger, our raven haired agonist spends his life mistrusting gingers. Soon he forgets why, but the uneasiness never goes away. His friends might sense it, his family certainly does. Then one day his daughter meets a boy with orange hair, and despite the fact that he’s everything she ever desired, she can’t trust him.
Now change hair color to religion, race, political leanings, or occupation, and you can see how prejudice spreads. We do things that make no sense, because we don’t take the time to consider our motives, or how those motives came into being.
We feel pain, and rather than fix ourselves we hurt others. After a while, we don’t even realize we’re doing it, or that there’s anything wrong with it. A man kicks his dog because he’s angry with his boss, the boss kicks his dog because his employees won’t perform. Some innocent kid gets bitten by a dog that keeps getting kicked for no reason. The wives of the boss and the employee meet at the animal shelter because their dogs have been determined “vicious”. They form a group to help victims of dog bites, and help the innocent kid develop an interest in behavioral science. All because of a couple of wankers.
It’s a very small world we live in. Even though I chose not to follow a teaching career, I have always felt an obligation to teach. Recently I have found that there are many people who just don’t want to know. They’ve shrouded themselves in their prejudices, and see what they want to see, regardless of what they’re presented with. They know not to pour the cordite into their hand, but can’t resist pouring it into another person’s hand. Someone with red hair.
Someone told me recently that being a teacher meant not giving up. They obviously hadn’t seen the schools in Philadelphia. I can’t get through the day without something angering me, my disappointment with humanity is often overwhelming. But I don’t give up, I try to inspire others, and in doing so inspire myself. I know that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has an intertwined past with its ancestors, Homo sapiens idaltu was extinct prior to Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis and Cro-Magnon man fighting over whether to speak French or Dutch. Our next evolutionary step lives among us, as does our last.
A hundred thousand years ago we would have just hit the wankers with a rock. Today we try to inspire the rare members of our successors, and hope they’re the lithe intelligent ones (gingers), not the brutish stupid ones (wankers).
Full disclosure, I am devoting my life to installing the term “wanker” into American English. I want to hear it on elevators.