By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
As I recently mentioned, my first job after college was as the advertising and marketing director for an upscale condominium development in Fair Oaks, California. Why they hired me, I’ll never know. My only experience in either field consisted of placing a want ad to sell my 1965 Renault, a car that featured a push-button gear shift. It was so under-powered that Bob used to ask me whether I put it in “puree” or “blend” to climb up a hill. I suppose that my ability to craft an ad that actually resulted in its sale did take a certain amount of talent. And being part Irish gives me a significant leg up when it comes to shoveling out the blarney. I suspect, however, that they hired me because I was willing to work for peanuts. I learned a lot during my tenure at that job – newspaper ad positioning, how to write copy that lured in customers, how to drink coffee for 8 hours straight. But mostly, I learned about people.
My office was upstairs from the sales office and since they had the coffee pot I wandered down to sit with them quite often. Have I mentioned that my boss was 400 miles away? Anyway, there were three wizened sales people who were kind enough to take me under their wing and teach me a bit about real estate and what people look for when they’re searching for a new home. I spent a lot of time listening to them transfix customers with their “spiel”. I thought I had developed a sense for who was a “buyer” and who was a “tire kicker” until the day an older couple (probably younger than me now!) walked in to the office. They were both wearing overalls; he had a cowlick and she was devoid of make-up with a shock of unruly gray curls. They had literally just walked in “off the farm”. I went back up to my office while the saleswoman took them out on tour. When she returned I said, “Boy, that must have been a waste of time; they couldn’t possibly afford to buy in here.” Which shows just how judgemental and stupid I was. They signed the papers that day for the biggest, most expensive unit we had, with magnificent views of the American River.
I have been thinking about that incident a lot lately – how I judged people by their outward appearance before I bothered to learn anything about them as individuals. It was a very good lesson to learn early in life and it helped me in my subsequent career as a Human Resources professional. Not that I don’t judge people any more. I have plenty to say about the Kardashians without ever having met any of them and I’m pretty sure that my impressions are spot on. But it seems to me that we as a society are increasingly judging people using broad stereotypes. Black, white, Hispanic, cops, youth, Christians, gays, Democrats, Republicans…the list goes on and on. When did that happen? Or, more importantly, why? I’m not sure there is any one answer and certainly it would take someone above my pay grade (which is $0) to figure it out. If I had to guess I’d say it has something to do with the advent of 24 hour cable news and the internet, both of which derive income by staking out corners in the far reaches of an ideology and then catering to people who reside there. My experience tells me that the vast majority of Americans judge people as people, regardless of their race, creed, religion, sexual preference or whether they drink Chardonnay or Budweiser. But these days it seems my Facebook feed is bombarded with posts, or more accurately re-posts, of some half-truth that generalizes and paints an ugly picture of some group. As a rule of thumb, any group that has “Occupy” or “Tea Party” in its name is not going to provide a completely truthful analysis. I’m on Facebook less and less because of this problem and will be un-friending people who continue to “share” those posts. I don’t even want to think about how much more vitriolic social media will become as we inch toward the 2016 election. And you’d best believe that the people who are running the campaigns will count on the masses to spread the half-truths to further their cause.
So I say we just STOP! Let’s not be manipulated by people who have an agenda. Let’s refrain from posting or forwarding information that is partisan or with an obvious bias. Let’s not lump everyone into an amorphous group – let’s think about people as the individuals that they are. Except when it comes to contractors. Given my recent experience with our bathroom remodel, they deserve every bad thing ever said about them.