Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Brother's Keeper

    Conflict is essential to a writer. I don't enjoy conflict in my everyday life, but if I didn't have problems and things that make me mad or challenge me, I wouldn't have much to write about. Writing gives me the ability to introduce a problem and then resolve it, or at least attempt to. Today, I was fully planning to write some cheerful, Easter related words and take a break from the heavy stuff, but then some events occurred and I changed my mind. There's something on my mind, and I'd like to talk about it.
     I am living outside of a small town for the first time in my life, which is something I've always wanted to do. It has many advantages and I'm meeting many new people from different backgrounds. It's been a very positive experience overall, but there's something about it that really bugs me sometimes. Because people here haven't known me my whole life, they sometimes make broad judgments based on single facts that I have no control over. For instance I once mentioned in an "About Me" speech that I had to do that there are no stoplights in my hometown. I just added that fact in because I needed to take up time and I thought people would find it interesting. As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I could see everyone's expressions change. This fact was more shocking to people than I realized it would be. That wouldn't be a big deal, except that people continued to bring it up after class, and I could tell that some of them were speaking down to me at that point. It was as if they believed that just because I come from a small town, I am not intelligent. I would like to believe that the number of stoplights in my hometown is not what determines the level of my intelligence. I would like to think there's more to me than that.
     This incident came and went, and I got over it pretty quickly and stopped thinking about it. And then something else happened that really set me off. Someone who had met my brother only once described him to someone else as an "average redneck". Now let me explain why this made me so mad.
     I wouldn't have a problem with the term "redneck" being applied to my brother if it was in a positive, non-judgmental way. But the way that some people use this term, especially outside of Mathews, is very derogatory. When I asked this person to explain what they meant by describing my brother this way, they implied that rednecks are (and I'm paraphrasing the general idea) people from the country who like to hunt (which they see as killing innocent animals for fun), aren't all that smart, and tend to be racist.
     I may not talk to Seth much, and I may sometimes say things about him that aren't very nice, but as soon as someone else says something negative about him, that sibling loyalty instinct comes out and I want to get defensive. Yes, my brother enjoys hunting, and yes, I went through a phase of not liking that. But now I see it this way. He has become very educated on how and when to use a gun. I remember him going to all kinds of hunter safety stuff when he was younger. Although I still feel a little sad when I see a dead deer that he or my dad has killed, I realize now that hunting is a type of sport, and am glad that he knows how to be responsible with a gun, and to only use them for hunting and maybe (hopefully never) in a rare case of self defense. (I have also become less sympathetic towards the deer now that I can drive and they feel the need to run out in front of my car unannounced.)
     Yes, my brother hunts and likes to work on his truck and do outdoorsy stuff. He is also extremely intelligent. He's probably the most intelligent person I know. The amount of information in his head fascinates me. Surely someone studying Agribusiness Management at Virginia Tech can't be considered dumb. He is also not racist or hateful. Sure he might say things sometimes that aren't very nice, but who doesn't? He really is a very kind, caring person who I love very much.
     So when this comment was made about my brother, it got me thinking. Why do we as a society feel the need to slap a label on everyone? Why can't a person enjoy certain activities or come from a certain place without having their intelligence questioned? Maybe we should stop rushing to judge people by superficial things and take a minute to see who they really are on the inside.

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