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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How Prejudiced Are You?

One of the hardest things we will ever try to change is our own prejudices. We all have prejudices, and they can range from opinions about age and race to unknowingly preferring one flavor of ice cream over any other. Prejudice means a priori beliefs (without knowledge of the facts and independent of experience) and includes "any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational influence." Ice cream? Have we experienced all flavors in existence or do we assume the tastes are "yucky" before we make our usual decision? It has taken me many years to confront my own prejudices in a logical manner. I have eliminated some, and I have decided to keep some while I am still working on reducing those which cause harm and bad feelings for others. Far from prejudice-free perfection, I must attempt to maintain a mind open to all views. I see certain ideologies and beliefs that I respect but that I believe prevent sensible ideas and possible solutions from being heard. I often try to play the devil's advocate to encourage parallel thinking. Personally, I resist categorization by others. I try to live my life as a unique individual, and I attempt to see all others as one of a kind. I have spent a tremendous amount of time judging my strengths and weaknesses to see where I fit in best as a team player. I have been expected to produce alone: I think, at times, I have done that extremely well. But, I have always preferred to give whatever talents I possess to a team while expecting others on the team to fill gaps with their own strengths. I crave this cooperation and believe it is a formula for success. I really don't want to be surrounded by others just like me. I find situations filled with similarity deflate the learning curve and limit potential. At the same time, variety captures my attention. As an ex-high school teacher, I often view myself as young; however, I am sure I have a very old soul who prefers to hear the wisdom of both the grateful entrepreneur and the pauper. Those who try to surround me with haste, flash, and screaming presentation wear me out. For example, an atmosphere like B-dub's Wings will only make me unstable. I would rather talk, relax, listen to music, and laugh than gamble or be blitzed by electronic multiplicity. Prejudices I have handled have included race, long hairs, rednecks, sex, authority, idiocy, freeloaders, and intellectual know-it-alls. Don't get me wrong. I am well aware that the world changes constantly, and I am getting older and more set in certain ways. At best, I will always be a work in progress. Why do people become prejudiced? Fear and apathy feed prejudice. Prejudice often results when a group of people is frustrated by a stronger group which is too powerful or remote to be aggressed against. These people take out their frustration through aggressive behaviors. (Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, & Sears, 1939) Sometimes those prone to exhibit certain personalities have tendencies toward prejudice. For example, authoritarianism and closed-mindedness can bias people toward their own group and cause them to form stereotypes on the prejudiced groups. (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950; Rokeach, 1948; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994) Some social psychologists explain prejudice as the effect of group interaction. This interaction can create ingroup favoritism and intergroup differentiation. Some experts state that merely categorizing people into a group is sufficient to induce the general characteristics. (Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, and Flament, 1971) Also, people can acquire prejudiced thinking by merely observing others' discriminative behavior, or modeling. For example, children may acquire a gender stereotype by observing their parents treating males and females differently. Conditioning can be effective in creating prejudice. If a subject is instructed with flawed reasoning when an attribute is presented (e.g. greedy) with a specific group (e.g. merchants) repeatedly, he learns this behavior. (Bandura, 1973) Still others view those in other groups as a threat to their existence. This terror response causes people to evaluate those in other cultural worlds as bad individuals. Conversely, they evaluate in-group members positively because similar others are assumed to support, and therefore validate, their own cultural world view. (Solomon, Greenberg and Pyszczynski, 1999) Sociologists often see prejudice as an adaptive behavior. Prejudice is non-adaptive when it interferes with survival or well-being, and biased views might be thought needed at times. What types of prejudice are normally exhibited? John Farley put prejudice into three categories: 1. Cognitive Prejudice refers to what people believe to be true. 2. Affective Prejudice refers to what people like and dislike. 3. Conative Prejudice refers to how people are inclined to behave, an attitude because people do not act on their feelings. (Farley, John E., Majority - Minority Relations, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall) People discriminate with reference to unequal treatment of people because they are members of a certain group. Personal, legal, and institutional are popular forms of discrimination which may be found in individuals and in society at large. Don't you find yourself having problems with most of these prejudices? What can you do about it? First, examine yourself. Come to realize that none of us are 100 percent correct. Most of the things we fight over are petty. Second. understand you cannot change the past. No matter how much you'd like to, it’s impossible to correct the great wrongs of history. Thirdly, see that your enemy is not other people. The enemies you face are hatred, prejudice and the evil that causes them. And lastly, you must realize prejudices are, unfortunately, exacerbated by that same "us vs. them" framework that has been taken by the press, commentators, and bloggers. "Us v. them" arguments do not engage our rational reflective capacities, but instead inflame us with an exhortation to battle. According to psychotherapist and author Ruth Bettelheim,"Any call to battle enlivens and exhilarates. But it also activates and exacerbates prejudice. (Ruth Bettelheim, The Huffington Post, July 29 2009)
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