Monday, April 14, 2014

"Bad" Looks Better on Some People

There are always so many negative images portrayed of certain classes of people. People don't hear as many tsk-tsk stories about people with made-for-media images - unless those images are made-for-sterotyping. This is why we, as a society, tend to trust the person wearing a suit or climbing out of a luxurious car while we will clutch our handbags or cross the street to avoid a raggedy-dressed person. It's why we trust and envy almost anyone with letters behind their name (or with the letters of their name on a building), while we try hard not to notice the parent paying for groceries with food stamps.

We are so conditioned by mainstream media that we no longer trust our own judgement about people we don't personally know.

If we learned to see and interpret impressions for ourselves, we might see reality about people and situations clearer than we do. There are good, bad and ugly characters in every economic, racial and social strata of our society, but we snap-judge almost everything. Don't believe me? Think about the following examples of unbalanced treatment of people in various situations.
  • Young man grows up in a stable home and goes on to graduate - loan-free - from two ivy league higher education institutes. After establishing a successful career in New York, he steals millions of dollars from people to fund his ego and his enviable lifestyle. (Marc Dreier.)** 
  • A single mother left her two very young kids in a car alone so that she could complete a job interview. I probably don't have to tell you the details because her story was splashed all over the news. (At least in this case, the media attention backfired - in the woman's favor. People have donated thousands of dollars to help her situation. You know that if she ever does another wrong thing in her life, we'll hear about it as soon as the media finds out.)
  • Person grows rich from a great idea that was cleverly marketed. After becoming wealthy, this person decides to hide more than $100 million to keep from paying taxes on the money. They get probation and community service. Why? Because, other than being a tax cheat, this person is basically a good person who can do more good out of jail than in. 
  • There are plenty of stories of people serving severely harsh prison time for other things. Probably because they just look like they ought to be in jail...
By the way, when it comes to crimes involving money, if you think that people "like us" won't ever have to worry about debts putting us in jail, you might want to think one more time. Some crimes are worse than other but, apparently, sentencing is often more about who is committing a crime. I guess it depends on how the courts see the people coming in for sentencing.

Understand that I'm not saying that all poor people get more harshly treated for crime than all rich people do. I'm talking here about how differently the rich and poor are treated in the media. If you think I'm wrong, ask yourselves what your own ideas are about people of different economic classes.

Think of how dangerous some of our prejudices are. 
  • Ted Bundy was able to get so close to his victims simply because he "looked" safe. 
  • Wealthy socialites are "heroin" chic, but poor junkies are "crack hoes" and "skanks".
  • Why does "corporate welfare" not sound as nasty as "welfare queen"?
  • Politicians getting freebies and perks are not "welfare queens", are they? I don't know, no one every talks enough about it to make a difference.
  • The same politicians who bitch about sick people wanting healthcare seemed to like their benefits just fine - before Obamacare. 
  • Some people seem to think that politicians get too many benefits for not enough service. Other people think the 'ticians only have it slightly better than "not bad".
  • When corporations avoid taxes, that's "smart". Right?
  • Banks get into trouble all the time. If Bank of America was a person, little old ladies would cross the street to avoid them at night. As consumers, we won't (most of us) eat at a diner with dirty silverware, but we'd deposit our money in a bank just because of they're great advertising campaigns.
Last of all, I can give you two examples when on the receiving end of media bias (or maybe it was just individual ignorance). In the first case, I called over the telephone about a job. After a great conversation, the employer told me to come in as soon as possible for a meeting. I just knew I had that job. When I showed up, the woman was shocked to find that I was black. (Didn't get the job, by the way.) In the second case happened when I was in my twenties. I was happily chatted with some random forty-ish lady somewhere (store or office, I can't remember where) until she made the comment that I was so "articulate for a young black woman". Not only am I articulate, but I also remembered my home-training about being respectful to older people, no matter how harmlessly ignorant they might be.

I'm not ranting here because I think I am any less biased than you against certain people. Trust me when I say that I will hold my purse a little tighter when I see some dangerous-looking person lurking in the vicinity. My problem is that we don't always identify all  the dangerous people.


** About Dweier: While awaiting sentencing for his crimes, he lived in his $10 apartment, eating to deal with his stress. His complaints about his living situation included the boredom and how irrelevant the news seemed to him now. Poor thing. Sitting around in his beautiful apartment, he seemed a little bummed that he (or his family) had to pay for the required armed guards and the he was not allowed access to a cell phone or computer. Some of the things he worried about prior to receiving a 20-year sentence: whether he would be able to view Mets games (vs Philly games); what type of work he would be expected to do in prison (because he doesn't want to be on his knees cleaning or working for eight hours in a kitchen); that he be sent to a low-security prison to do his time, preferably in a place convenient for family visits; that he would never see his dog again... Oh! I just felt my whole heart breaking for the poor guy. Not. (At least Madoff got serious time.)

Growing Up vs Growing Old

With another birthday coming up on me, it's time to take inventory. I have to clean out some old habits and actions to make room for the new and improved ones; I have relationships and friendships I need to check on - and some I need to "check off"; and, of course, I need to consider whether I am fully appreciating and using this life and the abilities God has given me.

Each year, I like to remind myself that I am growing up and not just growing old.

Growing up means maturing - in spirit, wisdom, thought, and actions.  Growing up takes a willingness to learn from mistakes and make appropriate changes. Lots of people live long enough to grow old.

As I get ready to take this "inventory" of my life, I'm looking at some of my habits and pleasures. I need to figure out which things are still a source of happiness for me and which one I keep only to "maintain." Let me explain what I mean by that:

While watching the documentary ("Unguarded") about Chris Herren, the former basketball player, I noticed something he said about his drug use. He'd once enjoyed using drugs and alcohol but, when the addiction took hold of his life, he only used to keep from being "dope sick."

"Dope sick." Wow.

How many of us are using things other than drugs to find our escape and pleasure? How much of those things are we letting take hold of us to the point where we keep up with them to fight off dope sickness?

Part of my self inventory is to figure out which pleasures in my life that I need to put the brakes on before I lose control.

A few years ago, I wasn't as mature as I am now. I had grown older, of course, but I wasn't maturing as much as I needed to be. When I went through my previous abusive relationship, then got sick, I was forced to grow up in a lot of ways. That's when I realized that some struggles are really warnings. God's blessings didn't get my attention as much as those struggles.

This year, I hope to look back on the past with more clarity. I'm praying for God to cleanse my heart of all the nonsense I have let in.