What You Can Learn from Stigma

Stigma is a sign of social unacceptability, and you can learn something from stigma.

Stigma has other biological definitions, but for today let’s stay with the social aspects of stigma, which can range from very negative to emotionally painful. Neither is a place anyone wants to be stuck in.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”? Yes, it is an old saying. The point is; it is still relevant to being able to understand someone else’s perspective and position in life. Have you ever felt that someone you worked with or cared about didn’t understand you?

There are a whole myriad of ‘old sayings’ that, when you give them some considerable thought, they can cause you to consider trashing them. Sayings like: ”They come from the other side of the tracks”; or, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”; or, “Of course they’re crazy. Look where they came from.”

Seriously, take a moment to think about these phrases, or others you’ve heard. Try to recall things that might have been said about you, or to you. If you were ever the recipient of a hurtful comment such as one of the above, then you know what it’s like to be stigmatized.  According to the Encarta Dictionary:

‘Stigma is a sign of social unacceptability; the shame or disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable’.

What caught my attention in this definition was the word ‘attached’.

How does stigma get ‘attached’ to someone, and who attaches it to them? Think about that for a moment.

Human beings for the most part like the familiar. Mostly people like to be with people who are like them. They enjoy doing the things that they’re used to doing, or comfortable with. Unfortunately, these behaviours and comfort zones have a tendency to ‘shrink’ your world.

The other thing that familiar and comfortable behaviours do is point fingers at those who do not fit in your way of life or thinking. All it takes then is for one person to make a disparaging remark about someone new or different, and that remark spreads through the group like wildfire. Most of the time people don’t even think about what they are saying, they simply repeat a pattern.

Most people, at some point in their lives, have experienced some form of stigma. Remember how hurtful and divisive it was, when you simply wanted to be accepted for who you are.

If you are an individual wondering how to change the world into a better place for yourself, I challenge you to reach out to someone who is different from you, someone who stands apart from the crowd. Be courageous and choose to speak with them and listen to them. Get to know them a little, and you may discover that all humans are more alike than we are different.

The world will change, as each and every person creates small and beneficial changes within themselves.

You – be the change!

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