Recently, while avoiding my portfolio among many other things, I came across this image of a supposedly "shaved bear"
My first thought: I'M TERRIFIED
Other initial thoughts:
- If I saw this thing, I would poop my pants or die or both.
- It's so hideous
- Look at it's wrinkly black skin, ew.
- It's not cuddly, I like cuddly bears
- Why would anyone get near this thing to take it's picture
- Who shaved this bear and are they still alive?!
- That bear is different, and I don't like it.
Harsh, right? My initial reaction was so judgmental about a creature that I had zero information about, and it automatically made me reject it. I even posted it on my Twitter and Facebook to mock it and share that fear with others, which was reciprocated by most people that interacted with my posts.
Then, I got an article sent to me by my friend on the post, describing the situation behind the bear. First thing I noticed was I kept calling the bear a "he" and it is actually a girl. She also has a name, Dolores. Also, I found out she isn't the only one, and that many other female bears like her are suffering from some condition that has the veterinarians baffled.
Wow, could I have been more wrong about this bear?
I felt really humbled when I read the article, but not just because I was wrong about the factual things behind this picture. It made me think first about my love for animals. I have claimed several times that I love all creatures, and it's a big part of my identity. Obviously I am not perfect and some bugs do freak me out but I try my best to really stick to what I say I believe. I have this philosophy that bugs that are outdoors should not be killed unless they are attacking you (mosquitoes for example), because technically that's their home. Same goes for animals running around in the wild - that's their home! How would you feel if people just walked into your home and killed you? Pretty sure that's called homicide. Now, when animals invade your home like bugs for example, that's where you can step in and say "Hey, no one invited you here" and then I usually escort them out if possible, but sometimes sadly I do have to get rid of them. It actually makes me really upset to kill a bug, I just feel like a monster, especially if they aren't doing anything to me. Obviously if you're in your house and a jaguar busts through the door like the kool-aid man, survival kicks in. Is it likely? No, but you get my point.
Back to the bear: I thought long and hard today about the way I felt about that bear when I first saw it. I felt so scared yet I didn't even know it. I didn't know that bear's story. And yes, that bear's story is important to me because all creatures have a story. Am I starting to sound like Pocahontas? Yes, but I'm okay with that. It just makes me sad that I would be so negative to something I just didn't even understand. Here's where I'm with this: why do we as humans do this to each other? Why do we see someone of a different color or someone who looks differently than what we are used to and we completely shut off and become afraid or reject them? Please don't try to pretend that you have not done this - we ALL do. I do it all the time! Yes, I've been in a dark alley and seen a tall man in the distance and immediately become afraid, even though I don't know him. Yes, I've driven through a neighborhood with people that were different than I was used to and I locked my doors. We've all been there. I'm thinking about this as I reflect on my reaction to the shaved bear picture. I couldn't help to feel afraid, it was my brain's natural reaction, but once I learned about the bear and could understand her more, I was able to get around the difference and respect that bear. Do you see where I'm going with this?
My point: interacting with different people is so difficult. I struggle with it everyday. I am absolutely not perfect at it, and I have to work so hard to see past appearance. The problem is that we need to be more consciously aware of the fact that yes, our brains do work in this way, but we have the power to overcome our natural reactions to make connections and look for a story to understand someone. Not only do we have the power to do this, but it's our job as human beings frankly. We have to teach our children to do this. We have to teach our parents. We have to teach ourselves. We need to hold each other accountable in this society that we really care about understanding each other. Make a habit when you meet someone new or interact with someone different that you FIRST ask yourself "what's their story?"
I know all of this sounds so typical optimistic Candace, but I want to be clear about something. That bear, Dolores, no matter how heartfelt her story is, COULD destroy me. Unlike Pocahontas in her fictional movie, I do not go up to random animals that look like they could eat me and try to understand them. I realize that the reality is that not everyone is good. I realize that it's okay to be afraid of someone you come across in a dark alley who has a gun pointed at you asking for your wallet, and that it's probably not the best time to ask them "hey bro, what's your story?" I get it. Fight or flight very much comes into play. The point I'm getting to is that you have to use common sense of course because we can't be completely naive but try to think a little harder about connecting with people on a more personal level, when appropriate.
If there's so much more to Dolores, imagine how much more there is about fellow human beings? Get to know them, don't be afraid to ask, and make genuine connections. Different is okay, don't run from it. Train your brain.