Overcoming prejudice

by Brian O'Toole
Guyana Chronicle
February 6, 2001

IS prejudice natural to all people? Is it a learned behaviour? It is a sickness? Can we raise our children to be prejudiced? Can we create a society free of prejudice and if so, how?

Such questions are being asked by parents, teachers and leaders throughout the world. Prejudices of all kind are causing unimaginable sadness and destruction throughout the globe.

Prejudice is universal and its effects are devastating. It causes hatred, aggression and violence in people who are prejudiced and kills their spirit. It breeds fear and shame in those who are its victims and often pushes them to hate and become prejudiced themselves. As `Abdu'l Baha says,

"the breeding ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past - imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics".

Can we rid ourselves of prejudice and thereby create a society liberated from its devastating effects? The answer lies in our ability to think freely and to search for truth independently. Without such a free and courageous spirit we will not be able to avoid prejudice.

To free ourselves from the imitation of the past requires courage because we must think and behave independently of our parents and friends. We must be willing to be different and to stand out, knowing full well that by doing so we ourselves may become the victims of prejudice.

But if we must choose between being a prejudiced person or a victim of prejudice, the latter is infinitely preferable. Prejudice is a disease of the spirit with psychological, social and economic consequences. While the victims inevitably suffer from psycho-social and economic consequences, the prejudiced individuals suffer spiritual disease. Their souls are darkened, their hearts are filled and hatred and their growth is stunted.

There are powerful psychological, social and religious reasons why people imitate the past. Psychological causes of prejudice are related to human feelings of insecurity and inferiority.

Conformity is the main sociological cause of prejudice. As soon as an individual tries to think independently they are often rejected by the group. In religion, too, prejudice is created by the belief in possession of final truth and the concept of `chosen people', both of which demand unquestioned imitation of the past.

However, a major contribution of religion should be to spiritualise our lives, to become free of all forms of prejudice and disuniting behaviour.

We need to recognise that humanity is one. We all share the same physiological, biological and anatomical characteristics. Knowledge, love and will are the properties of every human soul.

It is clear that justice and prejudice are totally incompatible. Wherever justice reigns, prejudice has no chance of survival. We need to avoid imitation, to search for truth independently and not accept any facts based on a preconceived notion. These are all root causes of prejudice and unless we are freed from prejudice, we cannot be just.

Justice, of course, cannot be established without equality between people in general and women and men in particular. Without equality of the sexes all our efforts at creating justice, eradicating prejudice and establishing peace will be virtually impossible.

The eradication of prejudice will not be easy. It requires a total change in our mindset, freedom from past concepts and notions and courage to relate to one another in a new spirit. Such changes are fundamental and they will take time.

Just because we may believe in the abolition of prejudice does not mean that we automatically overcome such a deep-rooted social, psychological and spiritual disease in our midst. To achieve that objective we need knowledge, volition and action.

Our knowledge of prejudice needs to be complete. We must not only know its causes, but also be able to recognise prejudice in ourselves and our communities

Volition requires of us a courageous willingness to get rid of prejudice wherever it resides and in whatever form it takes.

Finally, we must act. We must recognise the existence of prejudice in our midst and realise that it can be defeated only when we harness the forces of unity and spirituality.

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