Yesterday, i shared a few thoughts about how the way in which our perception of someone in sl may be coloured by – of all things – the manner in which they type. Today i’d like to consider how sl can be pretty effective at negating some of the unhelpful preconceptions that are common in the real world, whilst simultaneously establishing within our minds, a rather different values system when dealing with others in the virtual world than society might encourage us to rely on in our daily lives.
What the heck am i talking about? Values clarification, that’s what! Yes indeed, all of those artificial benchmarks that we rely upon so much in our daily lives to pigeonhole, stereotype and marginalise everybody else. The kind of measures that allow us to make snap judgements, without going to the bother of actually getting to know someone’s abilities and talents. These measures, for some bizarre reason, are usually given such credence that we’d rather trust them, than look at what a person is truly capable of. One can only wonder how many true geniuses and people of remarkable ability there are in the world who have been passed over, simply because they never attended university, had the right opportunities or came into contact with more perceptive mentors.
Sadly – no matter how much sagacity we may personally cultivate – the world that we live in is well-used to lumping people into stereotypes, through an unwillingness to see uniqueness and ability, particularly if it doesn’t comfortably fit within our well-established definitions and assumptions. We live in a world full of ‘ists’… ageists, racists, sizeists, elitists, sexists, and so on – each one of them with their own slew of prejudice and bigotry, very little of which is ever founded on hard facts. For those on the receiving end, it can be a very difficult life, take George for example…
George never did well at school – he always found it hard to concentrate and grew bored very quickly and, although he tried desperately hard to get good grades, they always eluded him. George’s school reports always said things like, ‘must try harder’; ‘easily distracted’; ‘not a high achiever’. His parents despaired and wished he was a high-flyer, like his sister, who was guaranteed to get a place at a good university.
And so, when George left school, with poor exam results and nothing of note to show for his education, he ended up in a dead end job, convinced that he was useless – a point constantly rammed home at family gatherings when his parents still constantly bemoaned his fate… ‘why couldn’t you be more like your sister?’, they’d ask…
Now, just imagine if George was also from an ethnic minority, was overweight and stammered too? Would would be our impression of the poor guy?
George’s life was one great struggle. One of his few pleasures was painting and, night after night, he would pour his emotion and imagination into his canvasses – the only thing that ever made him feel good.
Then, one day, on a mad whim, George entered one of his paintings into a competition…
Within months, George was a household name; he became an overnight celebrity, he became rich beyond his wildest dreams… but more than anything else, the one thing that made him smile was that all those teachers, his parents and everyone else who said that he was useless, had been, beyond any doubt whatsoever, completely, and utterly, wrong.
OK, so George’s story only happens in fairy tales, but there are countless thousands of Georges all over the world, who throughout their lives have been told they are no good and that they are under-achievers who have nothing of value to offer to the world – and all over the world, there are Georges who are finding that sl has the power to unlock that fairytale and prove the real world completely and utterly wrong.
You see, there is no room for ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ and all that other nonsense in sl, because we have no way of knowing exactly who we’re dealing with, and therefore nothing to hang preconceived ideas and prejudices upon. In rl, i may be a fat, bearded docker from West Africa, with no education and a club foot – but in sl, i may be a beautiful blonde mermaid, with a tinkling laugh and apparently heads and shoulders, academically, above all those around me. In rl, i may be an office mailroom gopher, yet in sl i can own my very own global business empire… in sl, i can be an entertainer, an artist, a musician, a craftsman, a wit, a leader and role-model, without any of it bearing any relation whatsoever to who i really am, or – more importantly – to how the world perceives me and how i perceive myself.
You don’t need a double-first at MIT to be a rocket scientist in sl, neither do you need to have studied at RADA and hold an Equity card to play King Lear in the virtual world. To paint pictures in sl that grab the imagination, whether pictures composed of colour, light, sound, words or pixels requires no grounding in art history and no formal qualification; neither is our success in sl measured by our colour, creed, background or appearance… it is measured solely by what we do, and how we do it.
And isn’t that exactly how it should be?
This one’s for the freaks
Beaten down and lost
The shy and withdrawn
Or just out of touch
Manic Street Preachers – Underdogs