I do it all the time. I separate myself from persons I judge by speaking of “them.” When I do so, I place such persons in a box, and subtly declare them, not only different, but inferior to myself. They are the people unlike me; if I can place them in a group, I can speak of them in contrast to myself, and I can stereotype them. Stereotyping anyone requires less work, since I don’t need to assess or evaluate what they believe, who they actually are, or examine any position they take. If I can label them in terms of one characteristic, I can assume that I am better than they are for not believing the same. If I can place them in a group, I can depersonalize them; I can create an image of them I can reject. If I can speak of them in generalities, I can form a pre-judgment, or a prejudice.
I can also engage in “othering.” Other people who don’t believe as I do are not to be trusted, for they believe less than I do. I’m constantly tempted to place “others” in a less valued category, for they are not part of “us”—they are in a different, suspected tribe.
As I listen around and read the news, I sense that we live in a culture of “us and them.” We are polarized more than ever: We are Republicans, and they are Democrats; we are believers, and they are not; we are peacemakers, and others are violent. In a world of extreme labeling, it’s all good—or all bad.
How did Jesus deal with people unlike himself? He apparently ate with the rich and the poor; he broke bread with the religious and the agnostic. He sat with the patriot and the ostracized. He visited with the untouchables—and touched.
I hope I can still do that. Shed my stereotypes; challenge my prejudices; get to know them—whoever they are.