Prophilia

 

This is not about the love of professionals nor a nasty perversive obsession. It is curious how synchronous life is, or is it that when an idea dawns on us, we are more attuned to its occurrences all around us?

Last Saturday my husband parked my older model but spotlessly clean and polished car at the train station while he took the Metrolink  to his office, Downtown. The car has a lovely flecked silver metallic finish (that I picked because it sparkles daintily in certain light), but, given the punishing sunlight that has increased exponentially since we have lived here,  the paint is peeling right off the the roof. This is not confined to an older car, nor to foreign makes or even metallic finishes, I see brand new cars peeling all over the Southland.  It is a new and unfortunate development, over the past 15 years or so.

But, there are characteristics about this vehicle that should be considered against the backdrop of Santa Clarita.  First of all, it is a Volvo.  I have been buying Volvos since college, when I got my first one so I could drive it up and down the state to Ithaca in very inclement weather during the fall and winter school year.  It was the perfect car for this, stick shift, 6 cylinders, don’t recall the engine size, thermostat able to handle frequent sub-zero temperatures and great visibility.  Volvos are boxy, sturdy, safe, reliable, cars.  To me, they are better than Mercedes and Corvettes and Monteros and Town & Countries.  I have owned all of those vehicles in the past, myself.  In fact, we still have a Mercedes and I love it for the luxury chariot that it is.  But a Volvo is the perfect car for me.  I do not see cars as an extension of my sexual character or socioeconomic aspirations, I just want them to be reliable and safe, period.

Where we live, however, a Volvo telegraphs things to people that may or may not be accurate, depending on how you view it: hippy, Europhile, radical, liberal, none of which apply to me or to Geoff.  An aging Volvo suggests to them that we are not among the affluent.  If we had an older Cadillac or Town Car, we would fit their notion of solid citizen, maybe fireman or sheriff. Every senior couple up and down my block with few exceptions either drives one of those or a BMW or Lexus.  Whether late or earlier models, that is the accepted car of the well to do and conservative in this town.  If you are part of the tiny middle class here in Valencia, you have a brand new pick-up with huge wheels parked outside your house.  Geoffrey parks his modest Ford truck at the office and takes the train, which is pretty pricey.  The reason for that is, our three-car garage is full of stuff and we have three cars parked in the driveway.  The HOA does not allow us to have a fourth, even on the street. Everyone else takes a bus.  The only people on the bus in LA county are the working poor, who get up at the crack of dawn to sit in punishing traffic and drag themselves home after dark, coming back.

An older Volvo, sitting at the train station, with peeling paint, creates a picture for our local protection force that made us more vulnerable to being cited.  What for? The monthly tag was either removed or fell off the license plate –not the current registration tag, which was there on the right side of the plate, but the silver tag with the letters in caps, SEP, stuck to the left side of the license. Our registration is due for renewal every September.  We, for whatever reason (which I will change next year, believe me), tend to get the car re-registered the last week of August. We literally registered the car on Thursday the 28th, and got this citation the previous Saturday, the 23rd of August — so we were still properly registered through the end of the month of September, even had we not re-registered in August. In fact, one has six months from the due date to register the car without its being considered overdue.  But, the individual who was monitoring the Metrolink parking lot simply saw the tag from 2014, did not see the month tag (even though, despite its having been lost — apparently that very day — was still faintly visible on the backing that remained behind, had the officer looked closely). He didn’t bother, he did not give us the benefit of the doubt with four more months in 2014, he simply wrote up an expensive ticket. It is one way the city makes additional gotcha money.

The recording and analysis of a person’s psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup of people.

Anyway, the car was over in the Metrolink lot in Newhall for only about three hours.  When Geoffrey returned, he was fuming because we got a Santa Clarita  parking citation.  These citations can only be paid in Newport Beach, two hours in traffic to the south, only Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm. We are now in a bureaucratic morass of trying to prove the car indeed was covered even though the tag “fell off” (hmmmm) and get the fine to Newport (don’t think that distant location for the payment center doesn’t signal something) within two weeks or face additional penalties.  It will be a time consuming and costly process and one I really didn’t need when I have a lot going on.

But it came during a week that was rife with instances of this country’s love affair with profiling. Clearly, we have been bombarded with painful and deadly examples of racial profiling for so long now, I cannot remember when this string of instances even started. In fact, a number of social psychologists and criminologists, including attorneys who specialize in this issue, have indicated that our law enforcement is steeped in a culture that  breeds, however inadvertently, profiling, discrimination and gender and racial paranoia.  Not every single member of that profession, naturally and I am grateful for having the safety that a city like Santa Clarita affords — one of the safest towns in the world — exactly because our Sheriff’s department is so good at what they do; but dangerous and prejudicial profiling goes on in far too many towns all over this country.

As I have said before, it is easy for me to sit back and feel there is no problem, no longer any racial or ethnic tension in this country, or that there shouldn’t be, because my ethnicity, other than being Caucasian, does not invoke too many negative stereotypes.  As I navigate around in my environment people just see an ordinary mid-forties female, nothing in my demeanor, physical characteristics, dress or behavior would likely raise any suspicions or lead to me being profiled.  Right?

Uh, maybe not.

Just this week, Kirsten Gillibrand has been in the news talking about the chauvistic, sexually predatory, toxic environment on The Hill. As they discussed her revelations, women in the media chimed in with their own examples and anecdotes from their own experiences with this kind of gender profiling. I will bet there isn’t a woman reading this who hasn’t had a direct interaction with a man who has made assumptions about her, based on just looking at her. Some men give themselves permission to act on it, too. These advances are unwelcome.  No, they are not flattering, they are intrusive and insulting and inappropriate. I am not talking about mildly harmless and mutually accepted flirting. One of the most telling accounts was that of Senator Patty Murray, getting into an elevator in with then Senator Strom Thurmond, 91 years old, and him turning to her and saying, something like “How are you doing, little lady” and then grabbing her breast. Gillibrand had her stomach grabbed by a male colleague in the Senate. WTH?  Can you imagine if a woman publicly grabbed a part of a man’s anatomy and pronounced it to be too small or flabby? I personally think Senator Gillibrand should name names.

The act or process of extrapolating information about a person based on known traits or tendencies <consumerprofiling>; specifically :  the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behavior<racial profiling>

Similarly, we heard about Jennifer Aniston feeling she had to defend herself on a number of very personal issues because she has made choices that don’t fit some antiquated cultural profile of a woman, especially a young and attractive one. It is no one’s business why she or any other woman (or man for that matter) makes the choices they do and to probe and insist on an explanation is rude and indelicate.

Women seem to be fair game for all kinds of profiling.  We grow up just assuming this is natural.  I wrote somewhere here about faculty members in my department in graduate school outright making personal comments to me about my appearance.  I was given the message that if I wanted to be taken seriously in the old boys network in my field, I had to “look” the part.  Now, mind you, at the age of 22, I had shoulder-length dark brown hair, wore tailored suits with modest necklines, very little jewelry and sensible low heels or flats. I have always used only a small amount of makeup, sometimes only lipstick. What in the world were they talking about? As a woman, I had to be plain and homely in order to be a child psychologist? Really? There were a couple of attractive male graduate students in my group — were they told the same thing?

In fact, at that very campus, just this week, a student named Emma Sulkovich has come out and accused the University of ignoring a serial rapist who is on campus right this minute.  Ms. Sulkovich who was a victim of this male student (along with several other women, who reported his assaults and were ignored by the administration at the school), is carrying around a dorm room mattress with her to all her classes, as a form of protest and outrage at this egregious dereliction of responsibility on the part of the school. What happened to in loco parentis?

A lot of this comes with a long history of patriarchy.  There isn’t much we can do about the past.  Women grow up dealing with this kind of profiling.  We learn from a very early age that we need to be accepting, doing, fixing, accommodating, enduring, and multi-tasking without being forward or “uppity” or “bitchy”.  In other words, we must do everything a man can do, plus all the things uniquely mastered by being female, but do it without letting anyone know. Oh, and we had better look very attractive (but not too attractive, mind you, or we would be ‘asking for it’ …) while we do it but not take offense when those secondary sexual characteristics draw lascivious attention and worse.  After all, boys will be boys, right?

One of the biggest arguments I have ever had was with my Aunt Kate’s stepson, who is very slightly Creole, during the run up to the 2008 election.  I openly said, despite all the admirable qualities of our current leader, I wanted Hillary Clinton to be the next POTUS.  He was furious. How could I deny our first A-A an overdue honor like this?  It all boiled down to the complete disenfranchisement that people of color feel in this country due to four hundred years of mistreatment at many different levels.  My point to Morris was simply that women are more than 50 percent of the population and have been treated as unequal minorities all over the world, since time began. Aren’t we also overdue for a woman President? We can argue about whether there is a suitable Republican female candidate available, but clearly Hillary Clinton was and is ready. Why shouldn’t I identify with her and see her as someone who would understand and further my interests?  In fact, she and I share many traits. I would love her to represent me, because we are so alike! How many women are in the House? The Senate? Percentage-wise? Why is that?

Human beings are prone to profiling and being profiled.  We all do it.  I fully admit, when I see a truck with wheels that start above my head, I make a number of immediate associations and assumptions — ones I will keep to myself.  Last week, Geoffrey and I were at the bank.  As we entered, Geoff held the door for a very small, hunched over, white haired lady, in thread-bare clothing, who looked worn and soft as she expressed her thanks for the courtesy.  Afterward, as we were leaving the parking lot in Geoffrey’s older model Volvo (he is one of the few men I know who is indifferent to car makes and models — I bought him his Volvo for his birthday awhile back), we exited behind a huge, old, boat of a car.  It was chipped, soiled, and some of the trim was held to the chassis with blue painter’s tape.  I stretched up to see the driver — yup, it was our little old, rickety lady just as I suspected.  I thought, we will be here waiting to get onto the street all morning.  But! Granny tore out of the lot, raced to the light, turned ahead of us and then shot up the hill into our neighborhood and screamed around the corner onto the priciest street in Valencia.

When will we learn? Don’t ASSume.

Two articles caught my eye this week.  Who do we picture as the CEO of a successful beer company?

Can’t we all just admit that we all do this?

Now, maybe the patrolman who cited my car simply did so because the SEP tag fell off.  I could be paranoid, taking umbrage where none was meant, projecting, drawing to me slights and injuries simply because I am loaded for bear.  This is something I need to work on.  I am a born cynic (how’s that for a non-progressive trait?).  I am frequently suspicious and defensive about being a female, educated, left of center, anti-cruelty, renegade in a world that misunderstands and underestimates all of that.

What we learn, can be unlearned. Whether we are local law enforcement or members of the almost all male Hill.  Or just part of the good ole boy network that dominates academia and the sciences. Or ordinary people like me who go around unconsciously making these snap judgments all the time.  We need to be deprogrammed. We have to fall out of love with profiling.

But first, we need to examine our hearts and actually see that we do it, too.

paw2014-s

 Images: wikimediacommons, thetruthaboutcars.com, shutterstock, onpointpress.net, sltrib.com,theepochtimes.com

19 Comments on “Prophilia

  1. I actually find that I experience less gender discrimination as I get older; I do not get near the amount of ‘oh you silly pretty girl’ as I did ten years ago. But I guess that means she discrimination is next?

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    • I think next is the time period of the ‘older woman’. I remember being taken aback when someone referred to me as Ma’am and ‘lady’. I just never see myself that way, lol. And I would bet when people see how defensively I drive my old car, they think old lady. 😀

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      • Well it’s just made evident to me that the nineteen-year-old at the Starbucks drive-thru up the street has a crush on me, so I guess I’m not quite into old lady status yet! Still, I must find a way to drop my age around him so he calms down. LOL. It’s getting a little awkward!

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  2. Sadly, we all do it – sometimes unconsciously – make assumptions based on appearances. The 7 second flick, a former networking coach called it. Sometimes it’s necessary – to assess a situation in order to decide a course of action. I think we need to be aware, of this tendency, and make the effort to go deeper beneath the surface as often as we can. To live the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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    • Well, I am sure instincts can be protective. But I so often get it wrong that I now try to check myself whenever I go there. I hate being judgmental. I wish that policeman had just looked up the license plate and seen that we were still registered. He caused such a hassle. You are right, as usual, Vera.

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  3. I have way too many competing thoughts after reading your post and I’m not sure which one to follow! Profiling or injustice by mediocre law enforcement? I’m sure the cop that pulled over my son because he misread a popular snow boarding sticker for a Ruger Firearms decal (as if that mattered anyway) felt bad after berating him over nothing. Do I bring up how I was yelled at and flipped off while in full dress uniform by long haired disaffected college students who acted superior because only uneducated middle class or poor voluntarily enlist or submit to the draft? Nope, it made me even more proud to serve and thank God I had the guts to willingly protect those wimps while they fried their brains smoking pot looking forward to the next protest. Sheesh I can’t even go there.

    I’m trying to keep my brain from exploding with all the different avenues I could take so be patient please. I might get strung up if I’m not careful with my comments about beautiful women since I’m probably outnumbered on your blog 🙂 but that’s the thought process I’m following. I hope most men don’t demean women, beautiful or not. I think many politicians take advantage of their position of authority whether male or female, but historically women have been on the receiving end and that’s wrong. We all know Hollywood’s reputation for the “casting couch” and that’s wrong.

    I have a friend who spent a weekend in LA recently because she has been selected as a finalist for the upcoming season of “The Bachelor”. She is drop dead gorgeous, seriously. And she is equally intelligent, but she isn’t making use of that and she admits it. When I visited with her a week ago we talked about the risk of having your eggs in one basket and using her beauty to get what she wants rather than using her intellect and other talents. After all, beauty, as the world views it, begins to lose it’s value over time as age takes it’s toll. But she has used her feminine assets to her advantage throughout her life and has done quite well. I’m sure she’s received unwanted attention or advances but I think in many ways she’s sending a message to men. I guess this road goes both ways. It seems as confusing to me as the new law waiting for Gov Brown’s signature “Yes means Yes”. Huh?

    I don’t know if my friend will be one of the dozen or so actually selected for the show but if she is I’ll be watching my first season of “The Bachelor” 🙂

    I have to rest my overworked undersized brain thanks to you Beth!!

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    • You raise a couple of very astute points on a few different topics that I introduced. My issues here seem to be heading off in different directions — the topics I touched on — I agree. The common threads to me were that they came up this week (Gillibrand and Sulkovich, who appeared together in NY over this issue, because of my own experience being underestimated in graduate school — admittedly personal) and the fact that they all seemed to be dealing with the profiling we all engage in and think we don’t.

      First and foremost, if you were living among what I guess most conservatives would consider wild and wanton liberals, you would probably be sensitive, maybe over-sensitive to the possibility that you were being singled out for holding different views and seeing the world through a different lens. I am living amongst people who literally come up to me and demand to know things that they have no business knowing, simply because I have a ten year old Swedish car (two, and a German car) in my driveway. They also target me because I like trees and have cultivated them and other plants in my yard. I would never dream of going up to anyone and insulting them because they have a huge truck in their driveway, as is the case all over the Santa Clarita Valley, nor because they choose to have nothing but lawn and concrete around their houses.

      Why do these people feel empowered to not just voice or share their opinions, but to do so in an accusatory way, as if I am breaking some unwritten rule? Two Volvos and a Mercedes, and trees offend these people. To me that is ridiculous but I wouldn’t even think about it, were it not for the fact that we are continually grilled for these and similar things.

      Not all progressives would be rude enough to attack our men in uniform. I am not a hawk, but I would never do anything but thank our military, usually very young men and now women, for taking a chance with their own lives and the happiness of their families to go out and engage in wars that a group of people safely ensconced in DC have dreamed up for various legitimate and illegitimate reasons. Too many people have been crucified on the cross of Vietnam for me to even add one more burden to that sad episode. Is there anyone left, however that does not think Iraq was a terrible, costly blunder? I knew it the minute Bush was elected, because I did my homework and read about the Neocons before 9/11 even occurred.

      Since I don’t believe in drinking alcohol or taking drugs unless one is at death’s door, those people who smoked and “dropped out” were just as offensive to me as to you. Shame on them.

      As for women using their looks to get ahead. I clearly chose not to do that. I was in a few commercials and one television show briefly. Do you know why? Because I took one of my favorite nieces around to auditions. She had a few roles in movies when she was 10, and I went with her. I was cast more often than she was. Then I told her agent, I did not want to be involved any longer, as flattering as that was. Why? Because I want people to relate to me, first and foremost, through my ideas and values, not my face and anatomy. Otherwise, I would not have worked so hard to get the degrees I have.

      Financially, that might not have been the best choice. But, I am one of those rare people for whom money is a matter of pragmatics, not desire. That is an individual choice and I would never tell another woman what to do.

      You raise very valid points. My main one was that every one of us profiles somebody about something. You clearly have an opinion about those people who not only sat out Vietnam? The first Gulf War? But had the nerve to shun and judge those who didn’t. That kind of profiling, which is largely unconscious, leads to the kind of divisiveness we cannot seem to overcome today and why our national government has come to a grinding halt.

      All of these things are complex. I would really love to understand the reasoning of the far right in this country, I truly would. Because, I don’t get it. And I am sure they really don’t get me. And that is where we all get locked down. We can’t even discuss common ground because the extremes have taken precedence and we would all think that we are very different. We probably only disagree on a couple of core issues, but we can’t discuss those as long as we see the “opposing side” in such exaggerated and negative terms. I would really love to bridge this divide! I truly want to understand and to be understood.

      Thank you Rick. It takes guts to voice a strong original opinion here because I know I sound so fierce in my convictions. But that is exactly what I want people to do, because it does me no good to just hear my own echo.

      So, feel free to blast me. I welcome it :-D.

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  4. Beth I would never blast you, I love you! And I’m no Tea Party guy anymore than you would have Bill Maher posters on your wall, at least I hope not hahaha. Middle America has conservative roots and I fit that mold. And guess what, Utah is set to elect an African American woman to Congress this fall. She rocks and brings such a refreshing diverseness that I’m excited to see what she can bring to the table. I think your neighbors are stuffy old farts that need to relax and plant a tree. Oh, I had a 2006 Suburban with a 6 inch lift hahaha, it was awesome! I could traverse any mountain road in Utah and bring my friends but I’ve never viewed vehicles as a political statement I guess. It held my 4 kids and we had a blast traveling all over the wilderness of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Minivans need not apply.

    I agree we do judge others and to this day if I see someone with blue hair and sketchy hygiene protesting something I immediately judge them and their cause. If you want me to listen don’t shout in my face, and please comb your hair and brush your teeth 🙂 I view that as common decency not left or right philosophical beliefs.

    I think the divide in congress is from selfishness and pride and not necessarily representative of the rest of us mere mortals. Sure we have bias and opinions but not the rancor and vitriol that politicians espouse. But it sure does set a bad example for us when we try to bridge the differences on our level. And as result the media captures any headline producing confrontation making it appear that everything in America requires a call to arms to fight for our viewpoint or life as we know it will come to a terrible end.

    I have great faith in humankind and in their resilience. I believe we are as quick to love and forgive as we are to misjudge. But that doesn’t make headlines nor does it attract attention for political sound bites.

    See you have my brain exploding again 😀 but you have a way of doing that and that’s why I want your autograph and a video of you dancing like Beyoncé.

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    • I agree that Congress barely reflects America any longer. But, right now, some vital bills and appointments are at a standstill and in that way, their behavior directly impacts our lives. Our economy is stalled for all but the billionaire class. We ordinary people should be fed up that their misconduct is impacting us in a material and often painful way. The media aggravates this, especially these opinionists who masquerade as journalists. A pox on all their houses.

      Personally, I think this mess in the Middle East is the most critical thing we are facing right this minute. Again, it seems, we are taking a philosophical and passive approach to what may be the next 9/11 threat. So, I would like to see both sides come together to face the common danger.

      The one thing I will say about Bill Maher that curries favor with me, he is a staunch animal activist who believes they should all, every last one of them, be treated humanely.

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  5. Hey, that’s actually better than writing a comment. Trying to figure out what you thought I may have said and the anticipation of me actually posting it, probably make it far better than what I actually wrote. 🙂

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  6. Okay, I’ll try this again.
    There were a few different avenues that I could take in response to your blog. I will limit my comments to “Local law enforcement” and stereotyping, or profiling.

    The officer that gave you the ticket for the missing “Month” sticker, may have been somewhat of a jerk and obviously had a lot of free time on his hands, but he did follow the letter of the law.

    Both genders are stereotyped by others, although women take the brunt of this situation. Men – of all ages – tend to make decisions based on a woman’s physical attributes and attire, or lack thereof.

    In most cases they are probably way off base in their interpretation. But this is not a one way street, women do the same when they see a well built man with all of the male physical attributes that they find attractive. They will make decisions based strictly on visual appearance. The other side of the coin is, we write people off based solely on their appearance.

    Profiling is a horrible thing. Race, religion, age, gender, appearance, wealth, or lack thereof are all terrible. But they exist and probably won’t disappear. At least in my lifetime.

    Here’s the sad part of this whole thing, we create our own profile. It may not be intentional, but the fact is the image we create is how those that we call profilers (Us) treat us.

    Beth, you live in Southern California and I will bet you that there are more plastic surgeons in the greater LA area than any other kind of doctor. Why? The need to create a different, or in the patients mind, “Better” image than what they were born with. Understand, I’m not singling out one gender over the other, but you must admit that women comprise the larger share of the business. (I’m not singling out LA either)

    Unfortunately, the reason is stereotyping. We have been conditioned from early childhood to believe that you must be “Good looking” to make it in our society.
    You mentioned Jennifer Aniston earlier in your post. I would venture another guess and say that there are probably millions of women that would give anything to look like her.
    Intelligence, kindness, nurturing abilities, all take a back seat to “Looks.”

    Okay, I’m rambling now. Please understand that I’m not singling out any individual or gender. Beth your blog was extremely interesting and thought provoking, as are most of your blogs. I got wrapped up in the profiling thing. Sorry.

    Certainly wasn’t the Easter Bunny, was it. Oh well.

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    • Rebecca, thank you for this long and insightful comment. You raise some very valid points.

      I agree that the officer was following the letter of the law. I guess I would have liked him to follow the spirit, too, but he took the more typical route and just gave the ticket first, asked questions later. No matter how we have handled this, the city gets a nice chunk of change in the process. I hope they apply it to projects I like. 😉

      And, of course, women profile, you are right. But keep in mind, women are still the second class citizens so when we do it, it has far less impact, in my view. We simply don’t have the power over men that they have over us. I am not lamenting it, it is just a fact and so we get used to being far more circumspect in how we navigate through life. It makes for more work. I am sure in the past some women balanced that with the smaller reward of not having as much financial responsibility, but I wouldn’t take that trade-off. I think we should shoulder responsibilities on all fronts as co-equals and then be accorded the same authority and respect. I think that day is coming eventually.

      As for the industry that has arisen here in the Southland to make women (and men, though not as much, admittedly) look good. Why do women feel so desperate to keep their looks and youth? I would say it is largely because the minute a woman is over 30, she has to compete for attention in every arena with not only her male counterparts but younger and more sought after women. Men have permission to get older and still be valued. I am sorry to say, my direct observation is that women do not have this allowance to be unattractive and older. So, we grow up with deadlines looming.

      At 30, a physician told me I was going to need genetic screening if I wanted to have children, because I had reached the threshold for women having babies unscreened. At 30! My husband’s brother will turn 60 this year and is planning to start a second family. His ex-wife is 52, his new wife is 40. He has a 30 year old daughter. The new wife is in a panic to get pregnant right away. Yikes all around.

      Those are just factors I consider but your points are still true and well taken. And, I recognize my own tendency to make knee-jerk judgments all the time. That is why, as much as I criticize those who profile, I have to take the log out of my own eye before I can tell others to remove theirs.

      I am so glad you added your comments here, Rebecca. Thank you! 😀

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