I look out of my window, I see a dark skinned man wearing a hoodie looking back at me. Trouble? No he is just making a cell phone call and staring mindlessly in my direction. But yes, I did know a moment’s fear.
EMOTIONAL FITNESS THOUGHTS
When we label one person as a member of a group we are being prejudiced.Whenever you place one person in a group, you are making a generalization and that is prejudice. As defined by the social psychologists, “Prejudice is an unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative) towards an individual based solely on the individual’s membership of a social group.”
I am not saying labels don’t have some value, but I like labels to be seen mainly on files, and even then only if the label reflects what the file actually contains. I don’t think I am alone in the world when it comes to finding my files often contain items totally at odds with the label on the outside of the folder.
What has gotten me thinking about this? The recent political debates, but also a WordPress Post asking me what I saw when I looked out my window. The introduction to this post is what I saw.
Actually, this is a post I had started many weeks ago as a response to the fact that most conversations seemed to end up putting labels on one person or another. This includes conversations heard or seen at the movies, on the TV, heard on the radio, read on various email lists, discussed over lunch or dinner with friends, and in daily conversations with my husband.
In a number of these conversations those who strongly disagree with me call me Baby-killer, Christian Conservative, Islama-phobic Jew, Racist, Nigger Lover, Radical, Bigoted Hillbilly, Reactionary, Pacifist, Conservative, Stupid, Card Carrying Republican, Card Carrying Democrat, Tea Party Girl Patriot, Member of the Moral Majority, Slut, Sinner, Communist, A Goody Two Shoes, Bleeding Heart and Ignoramus.
Contrarian would fit me best, for in most conversations I knee jerk defend whoever is being attacked. You will not be surprised to know that one of my mother’s nicknames for me was “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.”
WHAT CAUSES PREJUDICE
At the heart of all this labeling is the ancient brain’s fear when faced with the contradictory or unknown; want an easily understood and predictable world. To have a sense that is the real world, our brain loves categories.
As children we tend to believe “what is is normal.” It takes the expanding mind of the adolescent to begin thinking that was is “normal” actually might not be what should be. This probably is as much a factor in the turmoil that some adolescents experience, as the confusion created by raging of hormones.
Moreover, the more another’s beliefs contradict something held dear to your heart, the more your world of beliefs de-stabilizes. Your whole internal world shakes when you start to doubt your beliefs.
Jerome Kagan, Harvard researcher, says uncertainty distresses us particularly uncertainty about our strongly held beliefs. He also notes that one way to get rid of the distress is to blame the person making us uncertain. We get angry instead of frightened. For many anger feels better than fear.
We handle fear of the unknown by clinging to the known. That explains why many of us gather in our own tribes and clans and avoid getting to know those in other tribes.
At our primitive brain level we are all prejudiced. What varies, or which prejudice operates most strongly, is what we learn and that often depends on what our parents or others in our surroundings teach.
The fact that the content of our prejudices is learned is cause for hope. Learned behaviors can be unlearned. We owe it to our children and all children to take active steps to unlearn our conscious and unconscious prejudices. Here are some tips for reducing the prejudices that try to control or boss you.
Emotional Fitness Training Tips
Tip one: Know the beliefs dearest to your heart. These are the ones that will probably lead to anger or righteous indignation on your part. I’ll admit, it works that way for me. Knowing that at least keeps me somewhat more open to trying to understand another person’s point of view.
Tip two: Open your eyes a bit to the less savory elements of your heart-cherished beliefs. Rather than responding with an either/or approach, try thinking yes/and … Yes, religion is useful for teaching some values but religion can also be a tool for feeling morally superior to others. Yes, the United States can behave just as badly as many tyrannies, and the United States also is more religiously tolerant and more devoted to freedom of expression than those same tyrannies.
Tip three: Speak out against obvious prejudices. You will not always be heard but some will think more about what matters.
Tip four: Practice kindness in your everyday interactions with every one you meet.
HERE ARE SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS FROM THE SOUTHERN POVERTY’S LAW CENTER Web page
Their belief is that the main way to fight prejudice is to increase your personal knowledge of other people and cultures. Here are some of their suggestions for doing that:
- Attend services at a variety of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to learn about different faiths.
- Shop at ethnic grocery stores and specialty markets. Get to know the owners. Ask about their family histories.
- Learn sign language.
- Make it a point to break bread with a member of another ethnic group.
- Attend a play, listen to music, or go to a dance performance by artists whose race or ethnicity is different from your own.
- .Take a conversation course in another language preferably one that is spoken in your community.
There is a personal benefit to be gained by following any of these tips. You will reducethe stress of uncertainty and you might make a new friend or two.
Too many openly or quietly teach hatred. Do not join them. All children need a safer and more tolerant world to become the best s/he can be. Hatred diminishes all.
If you practice the tips above, you will be teaching them to your children. As they age talk more openly about prejudice and how it can boss us.Finally, take them with you when you follow the Southern Policy Center’s Tips.
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO
Please Practice Kindness by sharing all you find of value on the internet including this post. All here crave recognition.A like says “Thank You.”Comments say you have read and thought about the post.Sharing is a gift to three people: the blogger, the people you share with, and you for your kindness bless you.Stay strong, it is not always easy.