A Certain Kind of Imagination …the nature of prejudice…
I heard an interesting story a few days ago. A young man owned a really cool old car, a 1955 Thunderbird if I remember right. And one day, the car was stolen. The owner called the police, and filed a report. But after a few weeks, the police told him they hadn’t been able to find it, and were closing the case. He had the car insured, and the insurance company, seeing the police report, issued him a check for the cost of the car.
Then, one night, he got a strange phone call. The voice said it was a police officer, who wanted to tell him that his car had been found. In fact, the police had had the car for over a week, in a lot for found cars. And that, if he didn’t claim the car by the next day, it would be put up for auction.
And why hadn’t he been notified? Well, the voice explained, one of the police officers who had recovered the car had decided that he really liked it, and wanted to buy it for himself. So he rubbed off part of the car’s registration number, and left it in that lot till he could bid on it at the auction!
So the owner, because of the honest cop who’d phoned him, was able to get his car back, the insurance company got their money back, the crooked cop didn’t get the car, and all worked out okay.
Now here’s the question I want to pose to you: Based on this story, are police honest and good? Yes or No.
Hmmm… you might think… well there’s certainly that one bad one, who was doing something so underhanded and wrong. But then, there’s that other one, who went way out of his way (even possibly endangering himself if the bad cop found out) to help out the car owner by calling him.
So are police honest and good? The answer is… Police Actually Exist.
And like everything else that actually exists, they are capable of good things and not so good things. And while, as a general rule, I recommend that you treat police officers with respect, and optimism that they’re there to help people out (because I’ve never met one who wasn’t), it is true that there can be some who aren’t as good as they should be.
The point I’m getting at is that there is no “type” that is all good or all bad. We dogs are the most loyal, loving animal there is – overall. But some dogs are frightened of people, and some are angry, and some have been trained to attack; so you can’t just assume that all dogs will be as friendly and loving as I!
(Or have as good grammar!)
In fact, I would argue that to believe that all dogs are friendly, or all dogs are mean, or all police are corrupt, or all police are honest… is simply stupid. Stupid Prejudice.
Prejudice means just what it looks like. It means making a Pre-Judgment about something. And we all do it, all the time. When you go to school, you prejudge that teachers will be people who are there to help you, but maybe a bit rule-based. So if a teacher walks up and kicks you in the ankle, or offers you a cigarette, you’re going to be surprised!
But that’s not what I mean by stupid prejudice. No, stupid prejudice is when you hold to a belief about people, even though there is perfectly good evidence against it. For example, if you think, as someone in the news here in the United States said recently, that African Americans were happier as slaves than they are in freedom. That was really dumb. Not only did he come off as an idiot, but it made a lot of politicians who were supporting him pull away, as he made them look bad!
Or when you say someone else is less than you, because of their race or their nationality or their religion. We even see this sometimes, horrifically, where one group will kill all the members of another group they can, from the idea that that other group should be eliminated from the Earth. This is the most horrific extreme of stupid prejudice, and why it has to be noted and dealt with, in all of us.
Us? Did I say “Us?!” I sure did.
We dogs can easily be bigoted. In fact, pretty much all of us are. I know a Shepherd Mix who was once hurt by a tall white man, and after that he never trusted a tall white man again. And once, I had the experience, after I’d always found that cats run from me, of chasing one, only to find it turning around and slashing me right in the nose!
But I have an even better story:
When I was a little puppy, Handsome introduced me to a dog owned by some friends of his. He’d always found this dog to be friendly and sweet… to him. But she didn’t like puppies, and as I ran up to play with her, she dived on me and started beating me up and biting me! Handsome pulled us apart, but not before I’d gotten really scared!
A year or two later, full-grown, I was walking down a sidewalk with Handsome when a Newfoundland and his owner showed up. Now if you don’t know Newfoundlands, they are HUGE dogs, with long black fur. And to my eyes, this giant dog looked just like that other dog (who was much smaller in reality) had looked to me when I was little. So instead of walking up to sniff and play with it, as I did with all other dogs, I rolled right over on my back, showed this giant my belly, and did everything to show surrender but wave a white flag!
Why? Because I had learned a stupid prejudice! That dog was perfectly friendly. He could have been really fun to play with. But no, I had developed a bigotry that made my life just that little bit worse.
It makes me think of a conversation between two characters in a great old movie called The Philadelphia Story. One person is explaining why they had thought badly of someone, and says, “Well, it didn’t take much imagination.” And the other responds, “Not much, perhaps, but just of a certain kind.”
A kind that is predisposed to make unfair and wrong pre-judgments about others.
So I’m not going to ask you to never suspect people, or have predispositions to others. That’s impossible.
But I will say, when you notice yourself having a moment of pre-judgment, that you’ll find your world a lot better if you just take a breath and ask yourself, “How sure am I about this?” And if you aren’t too sure… use that great human brain of yours and find out.
Because, maybe, that dog you’re scared of would actually be fun to play with. And maybe that cat you want to chase is actually tough and brave. And maybe that police officer you think you know everything about is completely different than you would guess.
Because, you see, my dear friends – prejudice, when it’s not a correct judgment of someone, is nothing more than just an especially stupid way of being Wrong!
Take it from one who’s been there, and knows!