What's in Your Pot?

You are only as human as your models.

I have to apologize to Maura; she sent me a copy of George Herbert Mead’s Mind, Self and Society, and I’ve yet to actually get to it. Between the distractions of work, school, and reading (currently Tobias Wolff and the Justice League) I simply haven’t gotten to it.

I have, however, read some wonderful secondary sources, and there’s an idea that, if not Mead’s exactly, is extremely useful to us today. That idea is that understanding others *matters*.

A difficult thing of living with S was that his motives were frequently counter-rational. Without fully apprehending the topsy-turvy way his mind worked, it was utterly impossible to explain his behavior in any way but maliciously.

Today, we had a customer who was very irrational in their requests. By the time I saw them, their requests contradicted each other, utterly frustrating my co-workers. It’s highly probable that they were scared (of us, of their situation, whatever), and that fear was coming out sideways. Any hint of (percieved) incompetence was a judgement upon us all. My blood pressure (for once) stayed low.

Why? I could understand (or at least, imagine that I understood) what was going on in their head. That didn’t make their behavior any less annoying (or in S’s case, less of a physical threat). It did allow me to empathize a little bit, and allowed me to keep my cool.

As we strive towards equality, commonality, and general “just getting along”-ness, we will need to develop, cultivate, and teach this kind of empathy. We will have to strive to understand where each person is coming from. That doesn’t mean we must *agree* – not by any stretch of the imagination.

But stretch the imagination we must. As Resist Racism points out, unity has been misunderstood to mean homogenity. When we speak of a melting pot, we imagine all “others” becoming assimilated, and eventually becoming essentially like the dominant group.

This is an utter failure of imagination. Instead, we who are the dominant group must stretch our imaginations, our acceptance. We must learn to see the “other” as equivalent (though not synonymous) with “us”.

The melting pot is a bankrupt analogy that is tantamount to domination. Yet in it, there is a dream of some kind of unity, and that part of the vision might yet be preserved.

I imagine a large bubbling pot, yes, but one that has texture inside. One where there are dissimilar elements. They retain most of their shape and size, but all aspects are flavored by each other. Remove any part, and the whole is poorer for it – but each part though changed is still recognizable.

I imagine a gigantic American stew, full of chunks and bits and flavor. All one dish, made of many parts. Each part influenced by the rest, but still retaining its own shape. All parts are important, all parts are equivalent, even though none of the parts are the same.

Tags: society, melting pot, united states, sociology

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