When a teacher asked her students to show her what prejudice looks like, most students provided explanations:
One student grabbed a bunch of small flags sticking out of a holder, each from a different country, and put a small flag in the hand of several different students and asked them to stand. She asked one student to appear angry and hold his flag higher than the others, then another, to hold her flag even higher. Soon, all the students were vying for the highest position.
When the teacher asked them all to stop, the students could all see the prejudice that was happening. This was the teacher’s point:
It’s taking a moment to stop. You decide, in that stop moment, “Am I going to participate in it, or not?”
Spotting prejudice, right when it happens, is a moment that provides an opportunity to end it.
The first question to ask in any situation is: Am I questioning, or am I judging?
Here’s a gauge to help us measure the various levels of prejudice:
Someone calls you a terrible name and you want to call that person a name, too, in retaliation. But instead, you take a Stop! Think! Moment, you turn and walk away. Or, you ask: “Why did you call me that? Are you angry about something? What’s wrong?” This stops prejudice in its tracks! It goes no further! We can avoid a conflict like this one by having insight into it, right as it’s happening. You step on the brake inside your mind, and prevent yourself from crashing into conflict!
Sometimes it’s too late to prevent a conflict from beginning, but this is an opportunity to resolve it – before it escalates into something bigger. Let’s say someone calls you a name and you call that person a name back. As soon as you do, you see that you’ve added to the conflict. So when this person calls you another name, this time, you say, “Okay, this name-calling doesn’t work for me. Let’s talk about this.” This is you using mental self-defense!
At this level, it’s too late to avoid and too late to resolve. All you can do is manage what’s happened. Let’s say that two of you have called each other names and then started fist fighting. Now someone’s glasses are broken, and someone’s bleeding. Time to phone a doctor. Why do we wait this late to handle the conflict? Wouldn’t it be easier to avoid or resolve it?
Here are 12 ways to help you resolve conflict nonviolently, if you cannot avoid it:
Below is a simple organization scheme, which we call A.R.M., to help us look at the three main levels at which we deal with conflict arising from prejudice.
It’s the ability to recognize conflict, or prejudice, right now — right when it’s happening — so that it can be stopped immediately! This stage is the one that prevents conflict, and it’s always our highest goal.
Yes, there was conflict. Yes, I see that what that person did was an act of prejudice, and what I did was a reaction to that prejudice. Hindsight shows a sense of recognition that prejudice happened.
This is called late-sight because we’re too far-gone to see what created it. Although it’s too late to prevent the conflict, we now go about the business of straightening everything out, so that we go on with our lives. There’s no time to do anything about it, except clean up.
Whether prejudice has caused problems at the first, second or third level, the most important thing we can do is understand the cause or root of it. One way to do this is to take some responsibility.
Say to yourself: “It’s possible that I have somehow taken part in creating this problem.”
Whether you have or not, is irrelevant. What’s important is that you take responsibility.
Then say to yourself: “Since I may have taken part in creating the problem, let me think of some way I might be helpful in resolving it.”
If we can manage it, perhaps we can resolve it. Then, we need to go to the first stage and educate ourselves about its causes so — next time — we can end a situation like this one at the root level.
When we question, we can find out for ourselves whether something is true or false. Insight is being able to clearly see what’s happening as it occurs. It’s first-hand experience rather than something someone tells you.
We have to become active in our own education. We can speak with people we know, but all anyone can do is show us something, or tell us something. It’s then up to us to find out for ourselves whether what we’ve been told is true or not.
A man named Kaspar Hauser was locked in a dark cellar and chained there for the first 18 years of his life. For as long as he could remember he spent his life totally alone in a darkened cell about two metres long, one metre wide and one-and-a-half high (about seven feet long, about three feet wide and about four feet high) with only a straw bed to sleep on and two horses and a dog carved out of wood for toys.
He had never seen the sun, the moon, flowers, and trees – anything but a toy wooden horse that had been left in his cellar. When he was discovered and let out of the cellar, Kaspar was completely unprejudiced. He didn’t know how to discriminate between a black person and a white person. He’d never been taught to call anyone a name, to feel jealousy, spite, hatred, or even fear. His life proved something important.
We’re all vulnerable to the effects of prejudice, but we’re all also capable of understanding how we’ve been conditioned and responding correctly to a new situation. Here are three steps that can help:
Did you know that the country of Costa Rica, in Central America, has no army? And did you know that all the money that could have been spent on the military goes toward education?
Does this help you realize that such a world might possible?
When we’re angry with someone we perceive as different and a threat, this anger comes from fear. We need to understand that our anger is hiding our fear.
How do we recognize our fear? Fear consists of scary thoughts that usually begin with “What if....” such as:
The key is to understand that our thoughts affect our behavior. More realistic thoughts might be:
Whenever you have a thought, stop and look at it – don’t resist. A thought creates a feeling. The feeling creates your action.
We get free of prejudice by:
In a democracy we’re supposed to have certain rights and, with them, certain responsibilities. One of our rights is freedom of speech. With this right comes the responsibility to use speech in an intelligent, constructive way, for the betterment of humankind.
We also have the right to be intelligently educated, the right to receive accurate information. If we are denied accurate information, how can we think and speak intelligently?
The basis of a democracy is clear and intelligent thinking, the ability to act in ways that bring equality and peace to all humanity. If we live in a country that wants us to think in a fixed, conditioned way, then are we free to learn?
Finally, ask yourself this question, and think before you speak:
The essence of a democracy is the freedom to find out for myself what’s true.
Prejudice has caused a lot of conflict and many wars. Grown beyond its roots, it’s hard to stop. Once off and running, it can create a lot of pain and suffering.
You are the source of your freedom from prejudice! Thinking is what has created prejudice and the problems of prejudice. In-sight can help you avoid those prejudices.
When you look at the roots of the tree of prejudice, you are looking at yourself — because you are the world and the world is you.
“The book, Why Is Everybody Always Picking on Us? explores the roots of prejudice. I don't think I've seen another book like it. How wonderful if this book could be used in one's social studies classroom! I have learned where prejudice begins, how it is created, how it is perpetuated, and how it can be resolved. This book looks at stereotypes, bigotry, discrimination, scapegoating, racism, and more. It is a wonderfully comprehensive manual for young people and adults alike on understanding our conditioning and the root of prejudice.”
— American Pride Through Education