By Nancy Selig Amsden
Becoming aware of our own prejudice can help us eliminate it.
If you’re reading this magazine, I can safely assume you’re on a path of personal development. You’re probably spiritual, perhaps a light worker or a life coach, and you’re most likely working, in one way or another, toward becoming more “enlightened.” You believe in the notion of “oneness,” you value open-mindedness, and you dream of world peace. In this article I would like to offer you food for thought on your journey—a new perspective about how we all relate to each other and how we each have a role in bringing the people of the world together, in peaceful harmony. It can be done—and we are closer than ever before.
We now live in a global (if not universal) society, where we can easily “see” the differences amongst our human family. We can “see” differences in all areas that make us unique: religion; the color of our skin; our political beliefs; philosophies on medicine, education, and nutrition; our sexual orientation; socioeconomic status; how we live; where we live…
There are so many different aspects of being human, and no one aspect stands above the rest when it comes to the source of all things.
We call this source, God, Allah, Jesus (Christ,) Adonai, Source, Goddess, The One, The Great and Powerful Oz…So many names for that which can either bring us together or, as history shows, tear us apart. So many lessons to learn from our choices of the past.
With the rapid introduction of technology into our global society, we now, more than ever, have an opportunity to learn about each other. To stand in our individualness, in our power, yet honor those who may seem different than us. I do believe that we humans are getting better at honoring diversity, but we still have a long way to go.
I would like to pose a few questions, some thoughts to ponder. I hope they will help you to look inside, at your oneness, and “see” with eyes wide open the beauty and uniqueness that is you. What makes you, You? Can you list the things that make up the self? It’s hard to do.
So many things influence the person we are and more experiences will influence who we become. We change every day. We are all a work in progress, and we have great ability to mold and shape the “Me” we want to become. Sometimes, there are things about ourselves that we don’t even know. In asking myself some of these questions, I have found things in myself that I was not aware of and, in finding those things, I have been able to shift my thinking. So here are a few questions;
Do you think you are prejudiced?
(This can be a tricky question; each of the following questions will break it down for you.)
- Why do you think you are or are not prejudiced?
- Based on the answer(s) you provide to that question: Why do you think that is?
- Have you ever made a decision about people based solely on the way they look?
- Can an accent or speech patterns make you pass judgment before you really know someone?
- Have you ever made a statement that places a total group of people into one behavioral category?
- Have you ever made a decision to do or not do something based solely on what you have been told about a certain neighborhood, town, city, country, etc.?
- If you have children, have you ever said something to your children like, “We don’t believe like they do so you…” or, “We don’t want people to think that…” or how about, “If you do that, people will think you…”
- Have you ever, when describing someone, made the first trait you comment on skin color, religion, sexual orientation…?
Chances are you have answered yes and have done or said at least one of these things. I know I have. And it is a normal human condition to make decisions based on what we have been told, have experienced ourselves, or have been shown through actions or media influence.
So ask yourself a few other questions: “Why did I make that comment/choice/judgment?” Were you “prejudging” the circumstances? Could you have approached the situation from a different perspective, without judgment? I would like to suggest you try these two exercises.
1. If you are describing a person at a party, could you say something like, “the guy over there by the window, with the brown shirt” instead of “the black guy over there.”? There is nothing wrong with identifying people by a physical trait, but is that physical trait the most important thing about them? Probably not. We assume, when pointing someone out, that the only (or at least best) way to describe them is by “color.” Even choosing one word to start a description that is not based on a “type” of person can change how you view that person and how others around you will view that person. Perhaps you could say, “that beautiful woman in the blue dress over there.” If the person you are speaking to cannot figure out who you are referring to, you could then state, “the Asian woman, in the blue dress, next to table.” We are programmed to judge people on their physical attributes.
2. Another thing to try when speaking about someone (not someone you are trying to point out), who may be a shared friend or acquaintance you are referring to, is to describe that person without ANY classification. I can provide a few examples I have experienced myself that illustrate what I am talking about. In conversation, someone was speaking to me about her attorney. The first thing she said to describe this person was, “This little Jewish guy.” I did not know this man. Did his stature or religion make any difference to me? Did this description actually define the person? No, it did not. Another example is when someone was telling me about an experience of meeting a nice person in line at the grocery store. The first thing he said about the encounter with this woman was, “This black lady….” Was the fact that she was black relevant? No, it was not.
This exercise can be quite difficult. We don’t realize how much we label people. It is also interesting that, when describing someone, most people will always describe someone different than themselves based on “race.” Think about this…..If you are white, how many times have you started a description with “That white girl….” If you are Black, the same for you when describing a person who is black. Listen to other conversations for how others refer to someone they are describing. Make mental notes and watch how just being aware, can help you in your transformation.
I wish for you a fulfilling and diverse life.
Nancy Selig Amsden is a singer, songwriter, poet and author and has been involved in the creative arts for most of her life. She writes about cultural awareness and social justice. Nancy has a “day job” in the health insurance industry in the area of consumer advocacy. She has a passion for diversity management, has participated on a national diversity council, and is actively involved with her employer’s cultural awareness program. Nancy is currently writing a book about her experiences growing up in the “Grand Social Experiment”, called Columbia, Maryland, and how this very culturally diverse environment has impacted her life. Nancy hopes that sharing her story will help individuals, businesses and centers of learning to value and embrace the differences in people, allowing cultural awareness and diversity to become an integral and enriching part of their daily lives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.