I spent my entire childhood growing up in the Southern United States. I was a child of the 1960’s and a teenager in the 1970’s. This was such a transformational time in our country. We landed on the moon, experienced the Viet Nam War and watched the Civil Rights Movement unfold. I witnessed the prejudices committed against people and the confusion that ensued from such acts. It begged the question, did I have the same prejudices? This blog is not intended to solve the obvious problems people have with each other, the objective is to shine a light on problems that have not changed since my early childhood. I hope to look at some of the reasons we have prejudices. I welcome your comments and thoughts on the matter.
First, let us see if we can agree on a definition for prejudices. This is the dictionaries explanation of prejudice: “Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” If this definition is accurate, and it is “not” based on experience, then what is the basis? Ah, the first part of that definition uses the word “opinion”. Do some of the problems with prejudices stem from an incorrect opinion? I believe sensible people already know the answer to this question, and it is yes. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion the previous statement is true and we have incorrect opinions. Let’s try to examine things that affect our opinions and attempt to discover their connections to prejudices.
A logical examination of opinions might start with assumptions. We make assumptions every day and often are correct with these non-calculated predictions. Life is lived in patterns and can be very predictable at times. The patterns do not reveal much about a person, they just uncover some of their rituals, habits or schedule norms. We do ourselves and others a disservice when reliance on assumptions is treated as irrefutable facts. Prejudices can start with people relying on assumptions with little to no knowledge about the subject or the person. One problem is identifying when assumptions, surface in our interactions with people. These assumptions are so ingrained into our personalities and our thought patterns, identification of bad assumptions most likely will need to be from an external source. So, how can we examine our assumptions in a vacuum to determine if their tendencies lean toward a prejudice? I believe we must slow down and Listen.Think.Act, the slogan I use for this blog site. We overestimate the accuracy of our assumptions. We are wrong far more than we care to admit. If this is a true statement, then assumptions appear to be an inaccurate way to form opinions. The best opinions are formed over time and with a great deal of thought. Do not allow assumptions to foster feelings of prejudice.
There is an old adage that says: “We live and we learn”. The bulk of learning happens well before our teenage years. Even as adults we watch and emulate the things we try to learn. The process of watching to learn is so evident in small children. It stands to reason, that most prejudices are a learned behavior and this occurs primarily by watching people we love and respect. We can all remember times, in our early years when we watched our parents behaving poorly. Did they make racial slurs? Did they belittle another religion? Were they struggling with their own prejudices and trying to work them out as we observed? I often tell people I know there are some things in life I wish I could (pardon the incorrect language) unsee. The things we see, hear, speak and feel are an indelible part of our memory. These prejudices that we witness in others over time can slowly become a part of our behavior. To prevent developing prejudices, we must pick our friends carefully, develop conversations that respect others and be aware of how easily prejudices develop. We are teaching the next generation about civility and respect for individuals by our actions, this will not happen by chance.
It has been said: “We fear that which we don’t understand”. Many prejudices are based on misunderstandings and fear. The degree of friendship we enjoy with others is based partly on a willing attempt to understand and accept people. Have you ever been afraid of something you realized was irrational? The same things can exist in our stereotypes, phobias and of course the prejudices we carry each day. Some animals run in packs and so do human beings. We feel most comfortable around those that look, think and act in the same manner as ourselves. There are acceptable exceptions to the rules, but not many. I have befriended people of many races and religions over the years. Trying to find something we had in common was at times an exercise in futility. Yet, the one thing we did have in common was the acceptance of each other, without pre-conditions. I would love to say we are doing a better job with prejudices, but it is an anomaly to see it done correctly in society. So, how do we overcome the underlying fears we have of people that are different from our description of that which is normal? I think the first step is to realize they are human beings. They have goals, ambitions, and fears, and this is our common ground. We might eat different foods, worship a different God or have customs and traditions that are polar opposites. The commonality for most of mankind is the desire to be happy. Living in peace with one another is crucial to maintaining that happiness. Just remember accepting others as they are doesn’t mean you agree with them, you are just acknowledging their right to be themselves. Acceptance provides a world we all could live in peacefully.
The last thing I will discuss might be the most disturbing of all. Black Sabbath had a song years ago named: “The mob rules”. The news is riddled with constant examples today of mob mentality. I am not condemning peaceful demonstrations of injustices, they have ushered in great changes in our world. I am referring to angry demonstrations that are divisive and many times escalate to violence. A person cannot shout loud enough to intrigue people into listening. A great idea will stand on its own and violence will silence even the best message. Your idea is not correct because a group of people gathers to impose their will on another person or group of people. The civil rights movement in the 1960’s was effective utilizing marches that refused to use mob mentality. We all have a prejudice or two, this will become apparent with honest self-examination. You might have great ideas that need to be heard. Group mentality is not a bad thing, it can go sideways quickly if prejudices are the platform and peaceful dialog is not the focus. Gandhi almost single-handedly brought the British empire to its knees and he followed a non-violent agenda. Your idea should never impose an unfair equity on another’s civil rights as a human being. Be careful that your group associations represent the core value of your beliefs.
Some of my readers may have experienced the awful sting of prejudice. Race, religion, and gender make up just a few of the groups of people exposed to this terrible type of thinking. Will there ever be a day when prejudices are a thing of the past? Unfortunately, I think the answer to the question is no. It is only when we realize that our differences are really our greatest strengths. There is an old adage that states “If two people agree on everything, one of them is not needed.” To change prejudice, we must first change the way we think, and let our thoughts change our actions. I will leave you with a quote to ponder: “If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations