Are we naturally afraid or averse to people and things that are different than us? I know my kids are. Is it because I am? I think so. It's something I need to work on.
In a book we have, my son noticed a picture of a guy getting tattooed, and he said something like 'Ewwwwwwww'! I suggested to him that that's probably not something we would do, but that it's not necessarily a bad thing if someone else chooses to do so. It's definitely not something we should use as a measure of our own better worth. "What would you do if you met a guy with a whole bunch of tattoos?" I asked.
"I would try not to stare," was his answer.
I explained to him that likely his attempt not to stare would be picked up by the person with tattoos as a sense of unease on the part of my son. I suggested a couple of better responses: (1) "Hey, those tattoos are pretty cool! What do they mean?" or simply (2) "Hi, how's it going?"
This article was actually provoked by something former US President Jimmy Carter wrote in his book Our Endangered Values, which I'm currently reading:
It is a natural human inclination to encapsulate ourselves in a superior fashion with people who are just like us--and to assume that we are fulfilling the mandate of our lives if we just confine our love to our own family or to people who are similar and compatible. Breaking through this barrier and reaching out to others is what personifies a Christian and what emulates the perfect example that Christ set for us.
I've got some work to do, but maybe I'm not so different after all. The bad thing about humans is that we have the analytical ability that can be used to convince ourselves that we're better than others. The good thing about humans is that we have the analytical ability that can be used to convince ourselves that we're really not better than anyone else.
What troubles me is this additional statement by President Carter, which seems to be growing truer by the day:
There is a remarkable trend toward fundamentalism in all religions...Increasingly, true believers are inclined to begin a process of deciding: 'Since I am aligned with God, I am superior and my beliefs should prevail, and anyone who disagrees with me is inherently wrong,' and the next step [in the process] is [not that they are just wrong, but that they are] 'inherently inferior'. The ultimate step [in this process] is [to label such people as] 'subhuman', and then their lives [can easily be deemed] not significant.
It is easy to see this tendency toward exclusivity and self-superiority in fundamentalist Islam, but it exists to some degree in Christianity, too. This is likely the cause of the increase in vitriol in our public places--especially in our political public places. Red states remain red, and blue remain blue, and at the current pace of things, never the twain shall meet.
But they--literally--must meet if we are to survive as a country.
So if you see a person who is 'covered in tattoos', whether literally, politically, or otherwise figuratively, if all you can say is "Hi, how's it going?" and mean it, that's a good start.