There are many ways to label a person.
I’m a white, male, United States citizen, who is left-handed.
I’m also a blue-eyed, non-political, atheist, and I like Doritos.
These labels help define me, but they are not me. They sketch a map to where I can be found, but they are not the ‘X’ on that map. I am the X. I am me.
Unfortunately, all too often we look at the labels other people wear and assume too much about them. He’s from the US, so he probably thinks he’s better than me. He’s left-handed, so he’s probably a day-dreaming nitwit. He likes Doritos, so he’s probably morbidly obese.
What we neglect to remember is that individual attributes are not the most important aspects of a person. A person is the sum of their actions and thoughts. They are entities independent of their hair color or the candidate they voted for. These are just pieces of an incredibly large puzzle: To pass judgment on the finished image based on how a corner piece looks is ridiculous.
I would go so far as to say that the most important thing about a person — perhaps the only important thing — is that they are a person to begin with. Our shared humanity is something we all have in common, and all of us being human ties us together in a way that nothing else can break, no matter how we try.
And we do try. Very hard. It seems that despite all our massive commonalities, down to the level of DNA and heritage, we focus on the small, silly things; our religious beliefs or politics or what sports team we cheer for dominate our news feed and workplace chats.
We’re dismissing the important and focusing on the unimportant. We’re looking at slices of cake and deciding they’re different foods because of variations in the icing.
It’s all icing. All of it. Watch the ‘news.’ Everything the talking heads are shouting about is icing. It’s sugary and sweet and delicious at first, but if you ingest enough of it, you’ll die of heart failure.
It’s far better to focus on our shared humanity — the cake. It’s far more substantial and has taken far longer to prepare. There’s a great yeast metaphor in there somewhere, too, relating to our rising up and such, but I’ll spare you.
We’re so fixated on the silly icing and sprinkles and decorations we’re forgetting that at the core, we’re the same species. Our differences pale in significance to our similarities. If we would all step back from our petty rivalries and offenses and remember the cake, I think we’d find ourselves with a lot more time, energy, and resources to spend on the truly important issues of the day: issues that greatly impact the entire world, and those of us who live, work, play, and die here.
Update: April 6, 2017
This remains one of my best known books, and deciding to put a full statement on the cover confused the hell out of people, but also garnered a lot of attention. It’s a design choice I’ve used on two other book covers (also essay collections), as well.