When we form attitudes about people before we get to know them or on the basis of what we see on TV, we unfairly exclude them from our social circle and guess what? We lose out. I once had contact with a desperate father, whose son was not allowed to sleep at his classmate’s house because the classmate’s parents didn’t trust people of “Sicilian heritage”. Can you imagine what those two friends had to miss out on, as a result of a parent’s erroneous assumptions?
In 1920 robbers stole $16,000 from a Massachusetts show manufacturing company, killing a guard and the company paymaster. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had two things going against them. First, they held political views that were unpopular in America. Second, they were Italian, at a time when the negative stereotyping of Italian was at its peak. After a long trial and despite the Italian Government’s appeal for justice, the two men were convicted and sentenced to death. Vanzetti’s final statement to the court was as follows:
“I am suffering because I was a radical and indeed I am a radical. I have suffered because I was an Italian and indeed I am an Italian. “
That was in 1927. In 1977, Governor Michal Dukakis of Massachusetts acquitted Sacco and Vanzetti of the charges against them on the grounds that their trial had been tainted by ethnic and political prejudice. Because of the zeitgeist, Sacco and Vanzetti’s widows, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends had to miss out on the simple joys of having these two men in their lives.
The lesson for us is this: Don’t automatically make assumptions about people who are not exactly like you. Open up your heart and mind, and populate your social landscape with a variety of people. You will discover a richness in your social and personal life you would never have imagined!