By Bruce Stambaugh
I find people fascinating, a joy to watch. I can easily pass the time observing crowds at airports, sporting events, meetings or shopping.
Humans come in a kaleidoscope of shapes, sizes, races and ages. They adorn themselves with a variety of intriguing duds and accessories. I marvel at and learn from their diversifications.
I remember a specific time many years ago when the shoe was on the other foot. My wife and I were visiting her cousin in southern California. Barb had two daughters, ages two and three months. Our daughter was two months old.
I was informed that we were going shopping one afternoon at the local mall. We were quite the sight and unintentionally created an intriguing distraction as we sauntered around the sprawling mall with a toddler and two infants in strollers and two lovely mothers and one man.
When I volunteered to care for the girls while the women ducked into a few stores, the fun began. We became the mall’s main attraction. The kids drew passing shoppers in like they were magnets.
I found myself engaged in conversations with people curious about the children. Were the babies twins? When I said they were born three weeks apart, I could see the mental wheels turning in the questioners’ heads.
When my wife and her cousin, who are close in age, returned to check on us, the eyebrows really arched. People’s non-verbal communication revealed their conceptual inferences about one man, two wives, and three little girls.
In reality, that’s how we operate as social beings. We reach conclusions based on what we see, and interpret observations based on our own life’s experiences and values. Many times, like my mall experience, those assumptions frame and tilt what reality is if the truth is not properly explored.
Recently I was asked what the single most important point I had learned at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute that I had attended in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The answer flowed easily.
“The most significant concept I learned was that people are people,” I said. Not exactly profound, but true nonetheless.
Not wanting to come across as cryptic, I further explained my seemingly glib answer. Based on what I had gained first hand from my global classmates, we all strive and often struggle for the exact same things. We desire basic human needs and rights regardless of our culture, race, religion, wealth, ethnicity, or gender.
Our modest class consisted of female and male inhabitants from four continents, 13 countries, and multiple races and religions. Yet, we were all there for one common purpose. We wanted to gain practical and applicable methods for understanding and resolving conflict.
To that end, the cultures, traditions, and primary languages of each class member became secondary to the overall goal. No barrier would deter our learning, thanks to an outstanding professor guiding dedicated students.
We all had too much to lose by allowing prejudice to cloud our thinking. After all, most of the astute class members would return home to implement and teach the knowledge they had acquired. In too many situations, that would be done in hostile, dangerous, unstable conditions.
Our class discussions easily revealed that people universally desire the same life goals. We all need food, shelter, security, identity, dignity and the freedom to grow and explore in an ever-changing, challenging world.
No political bend could deny the obvious. Regardless of roots of origin, people are indeed people, and they ache to be treated accordingly.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013