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I profile people all the time, and so do you. It would be impossible to react to every person who approaches you as if you had never met a human being before and did not have any expectations as to their probable behavior, attitudes, and future actions.

An elderly lady approaches me. How do I know she's elderly? She has grey hair (profile), she's stooped over and walking slowly (profile). I assume she's orthopedically handicapped in some way. Why? She's using a walker. How do I know she's female? The high voice and dress give me a clue (profile).

The result of my profile is that I hurry to the heavy door to open it for her so that she doesn't have to struggle to get inside.

We profile people at every encounter, and I don't see that as a bad thing per se. Our reactions to our profile lead us into the ethical quandries. Should I be afraid of that young male African American approaching me? Not if he's coming to my office wearing ordinary clothes. But if it's late at night and I'm alone in the inner city, and his body language says "threat", then, yes, I'm going to be very cautious.

If the lady I just passed in the street has smooth black hair in a plait and is wearing a sari, I'm going to profile her as probably Indian and I'm going to greet her with Namaste. If she stares at me with incomprehension, I'm going to switch to English and say Good Afternoon.

If that man I see every Sunday with the surly expression and swaggering steps comes toward me, I'm going to profile him as either unhappy or angry. I'm going to respond by saying hello with a smile and moving aside so he can pass easily. He has not had a pleasant word to me in two years, but I do not know his story. All his profile says to me is that he wants to be left alone.

If there has been a string of robberies in my neighborhood by young Hispanic men who come to the door pretending to sell candy and cookies, should I not profile that door-to-door salesman on my doorstep, right now ringing my door bell, as a potential threat and refuse to unlock the door? I'd be foolish not to.

So. On the citywide, state, and national levels, tell me, what's wrong with profiling? It seems like common sense to me to be cautious of people who resemble known terrorists--and to be willing to adjust quickly, to apologize, to speed travelers on their way, if they turn out to be non-involved bystanders.

You may profile me as a WASP or an OWL--and you would be correct. If you were to ascribe certain values to me on that basis, you could hold them until you knew me better, then you must modify them as you learn more about me.

How else can we deal with strangers and potential threats?

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