Labels are efficient and misleading. We’re all busy, and so we like to categorize, and move on to the next problem or idea. I understand that.
I represent persons harmed by their employers because they are not in “categories” their employers prefer. The irony is that I too experience labeling of a different sort. I am a civil rights lawyer focusing on workplace discrimination and harassment. I am repeatedly mislabeled. First, my colleagues and many of my clients assume I am something of a hippie relic with socialist ideals and a deep distrust of a capitalist economy. I am often perceived as a starry-eyed idealist and a liberal democrat. Most assume that if I have a “religion” is it probably something like Buddhist or New Age. They seem surprised when I dress in a conventional suit, and maintain a short hair cut.
The labels of course are mistaken. If I were to use conventional labeling, overall I’d say “white, middle aged, conservative, Republican, free enterprise, evangelical male.” My occupation and my self-assigned labels initially produce a strange silence with those who know me. I attribute that to momentary cognitive dissonance. Once my advocacy skills kick in, they see that I have somehow transcended the “silo mentality” of labeling.
II believe deeply that no citizen should be denied equal opportunity to work because of their race, national origin, color, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, marital status, medical condition or disability. I understand the critical importance of being able to work, to earn a living, and to enjoy the dignity of using your skills and education without illegal discrimination.
As a Christian, I am deeply convinced Christ would not exclude homosexuals from equal access to employment opportunity, nor allow harassment of Muslims at work, or exclude an Iranian or Iraqi with a proper work visa from any position for which they were qualified. I am convinced that a free market economy with a minimum of government restraint is an economy that draws upon the largest possible labor pool without exclusion because of irrelevant prejudicial criteria. I am also convinced that any ethical system of basic fairness and justice would do the same. Equal rights under the law should be a central Republican value as well as a Democratic one. In truth, it should be an American value.
I have represented transgender clients, lesbians, bisexuals, Muslims, Middle-easterners; atheists, Asians, African-Americans, persons with various disabilities, many in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, with a total conviction in their right to work without discrimination and harassment. I feel very proud to do so. I enjoy being a lawyer in a country which expresses its desire for equal opportunity through the law. I am honored to be even a small player in seeing that those laws are enforced.
Next time we meet, I will strive to really know you. I will listen not just with my mind, but with my heart. A part of my “observing self” will question some of the preconceived ideas I have about you based on your economic status, your education, your clothing style, your choice of music, the kinds of food you prefer, and your attitudes toward God. I will search for a common ground of humanity between us, and I will look for things I can admire and enjoy about you. If you happen to be older, of a minority race, a different gender, struggling with a disability, a member of religion I consider a cult, and practicing a sexual lifestyle I do not personally adopt, I will still search for the values and qualities I find admirable, virtuous and good in any person: Are you honest? Are you competent? Do you keep your commitments? Do you show respect and kindness for others? Do you listen well? Do you show empathy and care for others? Do you work at a team member? Do you bring out the best in others? Do you work hard, and practice a disciplined life? Do you take pride in good work done? Do you love your country? Do you have an interesting set of hobbies and pastimes? Do you have skills and talents that you use to add value to your company, your family, and your friends? Are you a “giver” or a “taker” generally? Do you stand up for the oppressed or the defenseless? The answers tell me something about your personality and character that may mean we can bridge the initial space that separates all strangers.
And next time we meet, please look at this old, white, middle class, conservative, evangelical, Republican Orange County lawyer, and ask the same questions.
© 2011 fxp.