Did you know that there are 80 categories of snowflakes? I found this out in a beautiful book entitled The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbercht and Patricia Rasmussen. Libercht wrote the text; Rasmussen took the incredible pctures of actual snowflakes.
It took researchers years of careful study to come up with these 80 categories. I should mention that one of the categories is “miscellaneous.” In the world of snowflakes (as in other worlds) there are some flakes that defy categorization!
Putting snowflakes into categories made me wonder: Do we put people into categories too? Do we, for example, group all teenagers together? Or do we ever say things like, “He’s your typical insensitive male.” Or, “All women get hysterical.” (By the way, did you know the word “hysterical” comes from the Latin word meaning “womb”? The word implies that only women get hysterical!) Here are some other individuals we sometimes categorize: a certain race of people, Democrats / Republicans, priests, nuns, people with tatoos, lawyers, smokers, politicians, Wall Street bankers, residents of a certain city (like L.A., London, Shanghai), Muslims, Jews, the police, the homeless.
Jesus didn’t put people into categories. As I pray with the gospels, I am amazed how open he was to all kinds of people. He befriended both Jews and Gentiles. He mingled freely with rich and poor, educated and uneducated, elderly and young, healthy and sick. Though a man, he had a number of good women friends. One day he even praised a Roman soldier, a member of the occupational force that dominated his people. And in one of his parables he made his “enemy,” a Samaritan, the hero.
I’m convinced the only way we will ever make progress toward peace and justice in this world is if we really get to know the individuals we tend to put into a category. How might we do that? Here are a few “baby steps”: See a movie with subtitles. Listen to a radio station you never listen to. Read a novel or a book of poetry by an author from a country you barely know. Worship at a church very different from your own. Take a person you tend to categorize out to lunch. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital, library, or animal shelter.
The world is a complex and mysterious place. After all, we have 80 categories of snowflakes! But people aren’t snowflakes. They deserve to be known and appreciated as the unique individuals they are!