Stereotype

“Twenty-two?? You’re babies!!”

Some day I will learn to stop answering that question but by that time I’ll probably be old enough to offer a more reasonable age. Until then I’ll start rehearsing the response, “Older than I look,” until I can deliver it without a tone.

“You don’t seem like you’re twenty-two. You sound like you’ve lived three lifetimes.”

“I have. This is the third.”

Just like we do with race, gender, and religious denomination, we like to attach certain characteristics with age. I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with stereotypes so long as we keep in mind what a stereotype actually is: a generalization that holds true on average.

We don’t typically gawk and gape when a woman likes football. Nor do we remark, if say a man enjoys shopping, “You don’t seem like a man.” And yet that is the uniform reaction to someone discovering my age.

Being male or female is a biological fact. So is being twenty-two. Facts like these are linked with us and do determine a good part of who we are, but they do not limit us to conformity.

What are the traits we typically associate with being “young”? I mean, shit, I can’t even speak the words “twenty-two” without Taylor Swift ringing in my ears.

I’m feeling twenty-twoooo
Everything will be alright if
you keep me next to youuuu

The connotation of young is light-hearted, irresponsible and shallow. Married at 20 and the first child at 21 would not seem to fit in that shoe box, would it? I’ll happily own irresponsible; I haven’t fully learned how to take responsibility for my feelings, how to not blame my husband for my anger. And I hate making doctors appointments.

But no one has ever accused me of being light-hearted and I’ve met people easily twice and three times my age that are still grappling with responsibility.

So what does it mean when people imply that my daughter was an accident, my marriage is a mistake, and my life decisions are the result of incompetence– all as a result of my age? Does it mean that people are uniformly bigoted and hateful? Does it mean there exists a systematic prejudice against young people?

I suppose you could construe it that way if you wish. But what solution would that leave us with? Affirmative action for various ages? Walking around in blindfolds so that we can’t discern race? Forbidding spiritual discussion– forbidding any kind of difference– so that we’ll never risk judging someone else for being different than us?

Being different is a good thing. We don’t want a world populated with mere clones of ourselves.

In my twenty-two short years I’ve learned that the only reason people harbor prejudice of any kind is due to a lack in their own lives. When I was unhappy I judged people like Goldilocks judges porridge and beds– except I never got to the “just right.” Too patronizing, too stupid, too arrogant, too insecure, too human and too imperfect.

Watch any group of kids on a playground and you will easily see that even if we successfully adjusted for race and gender, we’d find something else to judge. I’ve personally never met a racist child, but woe to those unfortunate souls who get fitted with braces. As long as we are unhappy enough, we’ll find some difference to tease and ogle.

The solution is always love. We all need to be deeply cared for and in that condition we are able to see other people more clearly. If we react with hate to the people that misunderstand us, we only deepen the misunderstanding and widen the gap. Fire begets fire.

Now that I know someone cares about me in spite of all my imperfections, I no longer require other people to be perfect or even predictable.

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