Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding. Francois de La Rochefoucauld                                                       

Dismissiveness:  choosing to dismiss or reject someone or something; having or showing a disdainful attitude toward someone or something regarded as unworthy of serious attention.

I chose to write about this seldom-heard word because of a recent experience.  I observed two sets of fathers and sons and their interactions with each other in a social situation.  The two sons, both “40ish” in age, were dominating the conversation.  While their fathers were modestly successful men in their respective fields, their sons basically excluded the older men from the discussion.  Instead, the younger men pontificated on various topics, blissfully making remarks that were both rude and discounting of their elders. 

Did the “boys” choose to be intentionally disrespectful to their fathers?  Almost certainly, no.  But they were guilty of engaging in the key concept in this newsletter:  being dismissive.  Dismissiveness has allowed a multitude of outrageous, and even downright evil, behavior to occur historically.  Racial and cultural offenses have their roots in discriminatory, dismissive practices.  People from different faiths or from different locales are routinely dismissed as being inferior, based upon their religious beliefs or cultural background.  It is easy for we Americans to recognize the evil in Germany’s Hitler or Japan’s emperor Hirohito during WWII.  Recognizing the dismissive and disrespectful attitude of white European settlers toward Native Americans is more embarrassing and uncomfortable.   And perhaps the most egregious example of dismissiveness can be seen in the squandering of half of the world’s brainpower over the centuries due to gender discrimination.

In March 1976, New Yorker magazine’s cover waggishly showed a typical easterner’s view of the map of America.  The island of Manhattan was illustrated in great detail, its streets and skyscrapers ending at the Hudson River.  The satirical rendering of NYC consumed most of this whimsical map.  A few “specs of civilization” (Chicago and Los Angeles) were faintly penciled in on the magazine cover, with the rest of America ending at the Pacific Ocean. This now famous magazine cover imaginatively expressed the dismissive ”flyover” attitude of many who happen to reside just a few miles from an ocean.

So northerners dismiss southerners, youth dismiss age, experience and wisdom, and men historically discount women. And even worse, often those in positions of advantage and power assuage their arrogant mindsets by patronizing those whom they discount.  The offensive term, “white man’s burden,” defined the attitude of Caucasian plantation owners who felt “obligated” to care for their slaves, lest they flounder without their masters’ oversight.

   Societies advance when they move away from dismissive attitudes and practices.  Nations fail when they persist in the belief that they are superior to their neighbors. 

Homework: Who do you dismiss?  Who do you patronize?  Think carefully about these questions.  Value others based upon the quality of their actions and the wisdom of their beliefs; not upon their demographic profile

 We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. Gladwell