Sometimes stereotypes irritate me; other times they make me smile. I smiled last week as I read Alexander McCall Smith’s description of peacemakers, through the lips of the slightly audacious Precious Ramotswe of Botswana’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” The following conversation takes place between Mma Ramotswe and an old friend from her home-village in the African bush:
“We need more women in public life,” said Dr. Maketsi. “They are very practical people, women. Unlike us men.”
Mma Ramotswe was quick to agree. “If more women were in power, they wouldn’t let wars break out,” she said. “Women can’t be bothered with all this fighting. We see war for what it is—a matter of broken bodies and crying mothers.”
Dr. Maketsi thought for a moment. He was thinking of Mrs. Ghandi, who had a war, and Mrs. Golda Meir, who also had a war, and then there was….
“Most of the time,” he conceded. “Women are gentle most of the time, but they can be tough when they need to be.”
Dr. Maketsi’s realism balances Mma Ramotswe’s stereotypical view of women as more naturally inclined to peacemaking than men. Since stereotypes are usually constructed on a grain of truth, the sense that women are the mothers and, usually, the nurturers of children lends some support to the image of the peaceful, gentle woman. But an open-eyed look at life affirms a more realistic assessment. It’s tough for human beings to live peacefully. Not natural at all. For any of us.
Let’s look at another large group of people around whom stereotypes seem to flourish—Christians. Do people outside the church stereotype us as being peacemakers by nature? Actually, no. A lot of sad history, plus the usual dollop of human nature we all inherit have produced other, more negative stereotypes. Even we Quakers sometimes seem to live in ways that negate our testimony for peace. Our history has its share of divisions and controversies, including disputes over peace.
Jesus spoke the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” for the whole church. Peter wrote to the early Christians, “Finally, all of you (not just Quakers and Mennonites), live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing….seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:8-9, 11, NIV).
I love Paul’s admonitions to the Philippian Christians: “Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times. Have a reputation for gentleness, and never forget the nearness of your Lord (Phil. 4:4-5, Phillips).
There’s an ocean of difference between a stereotype and a reputation.