All that we are arises from our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
Here is what we’ve learned so far:
Now, we want to look at the effects of prejudice – what happens inside us, outside us, and all around us – when prejudice exists.
There are words in our vocabulary that disrespect and dehumanize people. Many are designed to put down certain groups. Using hurtful words is one way we let our prejudices show.
Conditioned Thoughts + Reinforced by Conditioned Feelings = Conditioned Re-Actions
Lazy thinking causes us to make generalizations about people without taking the time to find out the specifics of who they really are. Take a look at a few results of prejudiced thinking.
A standardized mental picture held in common by members of a group, that represents an oversimplified opinion, attitude or judgment.
Test your prejudiced thinking by mentally filling in the blanks:
Did you notice any prejudiced thoughts? What are they?
Refers to one who is strongly partial to one’s own group, belief system, race or politics, and is intolerant of those who are different.
A bigot has a fixed mindset, an immovable way of thinking that divides people. Bigots think in terms of “my group” vs. “your group.” As soon as we have “my” vs. “your” anything, we have conflict. Sectioning the human race into “different” parts creates separation and conflict.
In this life, we focus more on differences than similarities, and we need to change this.
The act of judging others as inferior.
Some people talk about having discriminating tastes. This means that they care a great deal about their choices – the food they eat, the clothing they wear or the way they live their lives. This kind of discrimination involves making decisions about likes and dislikes and, for the most part, is positive and harms no one.
It’s the second meaning of the word that creates conflict. Practicing discrimination is judging other people and seeing them as inferior to you or your group. When we call a certain group of people “bad,” we’re discriminating against them and acting on a pre-judged set of values we’ve been conditioned to believe. The effect? Conflict inside us that promotes conflict outside us — hostility and discord that can lead to a battle.
Making someone bear the blame of others.
Our brain finds someone to blame, to find fault with, and to condemn. This kind of blame can begin as an anthill and soon grow into a mountain. It begins with a single, simple thought in the mind of one person that can escalate. The effect of prejudice is irrational fear. And the effect of fear could be the unnecessary loss of millions of lives and the devastation of an entire culture.
In Nazi Germany, and throughout history, many groups blamed Jews for problems in the world. The Germans, whose sense of self had been beaten down by previous wars, felt they needed a “scapegoat” — someone to blame for their own frustration and anger. Adolph Hitler came along and said, “These are the people who are responsible.” And the Germans, whose brains were heavily pre-conditioned at that time, believed him. Six million Jews were killed.
Scapegoating takes the problem from oneself and puts it “out there” onto another person or group. This leads us to believe that the resolution of the problem is “out there” instead of “in here” — inside ourselves.
We came into a world where many prejudgments already existed. Without questioning them, our parents, teachers and friends taught us to think in “old ways.” Not because they are bad people, but because they were taught these ways by their parents — who didn’t question either!
These old ways are like shadows that stay with us. Passed down from generation to generation, they have formed ideas and actions that exist inside us all. At their roots, all forms of prejudice — stereotyping, bigotry, discrimination and scapegoating — are automatic mechanical reactions in our brain that result in hurt, anger, and despair.
When we see our prejudice, as it’s happening, we are engaged in a “Stop! Think!” action. Our awareness of the prejudice stops the prejudice in its tracks, and in that moment of awareness, there’s time to think in new ways.
What follows are a few forms of prejudice that are cruel and destructive. As you read about them, allow your awareness of them help you take a “Stop! Think!” moment to consider what could possibly cause anyone to inflict such harm on other people.
The word “race” was originally meant to define people in a positive way — to classify us by who we are, or to what group, tribe, clan, country, nation or culture we belong. It refers to the way we look — the color of our hair or eyes, the size and shape of our nose or mouth, the size and shape of other physical features that make us similar to some people and different from others. Other factors include where we come from, our beliefs, customs and traditions, types of food we eat, songs we sing, and holidays we observe.
The word “racism,” traditionally used in a negative way, occurs when one group of people believes that they are superior to another group of people and “put down” the other group for being different. Believing they’re “better than” others allows the self-labeled “superior” group to make fun of, or hurt, the “inferior,” less powerful group. Such prejudice can have catastrophic effects.
Many people believe that slavery began only 100 years ago but, in fact, it’s been around for centuries and practiced by both primitive and advanced people all over the world. Slavery is a tradition whereby one person owns another and can demand from that person labor or other services. In this form of servitude, the laborer is considered property — bought and sold like merchandise.
The history books say that slavery emerged as an “economic necessity of convenience” when people began to establish permanent communities that relied heavily on agriculture.
In the 2nd Century slavery was accepted as legal, despite its being considered contrary to natural law. It existed throughout the ancient world, from the Mediterranean regions to China. In Greek cities, a freed slave could not be a citizen, because citizenship was inherited.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, European exploration of the African coasts led to a slave trade carried out by the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. African slaves were in demand in the Americas, and were brought to Virginia during the 17th Century.
France abolishes slavery in 1794.
A movement to abolish slavery for economic and humanitarian reasons began in the 18th Century. Britain outlawed slave trade, and Latin American nations abolished slavery when they became independent from Spain in the 19th Century. Slavery continued, however, in many places, even though it outraged many people’s sense of justice.
In the United States of America, slavery had disappeared in the North by the early 19th Century, but remained integral to the South's plantation system. The Republican Party with its antislavery platform and the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 led to the secession of Southern states and the Civil War. Northern victory ended slavery in the U.S., and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863.
One hundred years later, along with activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were many people who sought the truth and questioned existing traditions. Rosa Parks, a community activist, refused to leave a bus seat to move to the rear of the bus — which blacks were lawfully required to do then in Montgomery, Alabama. By forcing the police to remove, arrest and imprison her on this occasion, she helped instigate a strong movement in Montgomery that attracted worldwide attention.
Although outlawed today in most countries, various forms of slavery still exist. There have been steps taken by international organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to curb such practices, but millions of people worldwide still live or work in slave-like conditions.
Never in the history of the world have so many millions of people been deliberately destroyed as during the 20th Century — 1900 to 1999. For the most part, these millions were not casualties of war. They were the victims of the deliberate and organized destruction of racial, religious, ethnic, or political groups. While it’s difficult to even admit that this kind of human behavior has occurred, our hope is that by looking at these occurrences, our knowledge and understanding will prevent it from happening again.
Genocide is a crime against a group. Individuals are victims simply because they belong to the group. In this way, individual members are dehumanized, reduced to numerical statistics.
The phrase on the main entrance gateway to the Auschwitz camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau translates to "Work will make you free." Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp.
Societies that have suffered genocide have had at least one significant minority group that was “different” from the majority, usually racially, ethnically, religiously or politically. Most 48 notorious was Nazi genocide — the killing of more than six million Jews from all over Europe. The Nazis also killed another six million people, targeting Gypsies, homosexuals, and Slavs.
Today we ask: How could so many people die because one person willed it to happen?
The answer is: In the act of genocide, all normal constraints against killing human beings are set aside in the name of a so-called “higher” aim. Adolph Hitler was the German dictator at the time. His reported aim was “racial purification” of the German people.
For Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China, the goal for similar behavior was “to build socialism.” Other groups of people targeted have been Gypsies and homosexuals, because they were considered “sinful.” In Latin America and in the Caribbean areas settled by Spain, millions of Native Indians died in what was regarded as the “march of progress and civilization” led by European Christians. The weaker were displaced in favor of the stronger.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, Armenians and Turks, people of India and Pakistan, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs have all been at war. In World War I — which lasted four years — more than ten million people were killed. Millions more were lost in the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and the Indochina war ending in 1975. In Cambodia, almost three million people were purposely destroyed by the new government for “economic revitalization.”
The term “ethnic cleansing” describes an alarming act of terror — killing people because they’re different.
Do you remember the country Yugoslavia? “Ethnic cleansing” is a term used to describe Serbian treatment of Muslim and Croat minorities (and possible treatment of Serbs by Croats and Muslims), initially undertaken by Serbian forces trying to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The violence was aimed at Muslims, thousands who fled the country, while uncounted thousands who remained were killed.
The Ottoman Turks first invaded Bosnia in 1386 and completed their conquest in 1463. Now, more than 500 years later, they continue to fight.
Ethnic fighting has also erupted between the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. As many as one million were killed, and two million fled into exile. In 1996, an international war crimes tribunal began proceedings in Tanzania against suspects charged in connection with the genocide of 500,000 people.
Can we understand why such injustices were able to occur? As human beings who feel this terrible suffering, we want to know:
Throughout history we have had minorities. In ancient Greece and Rome, the bulk of work was done by slaves who were, most often, “ethnically different.” During the Middle Ages, there were economic minorities who passed their training from one generation to the next and kept outsiders from getting into certain trades. In modern society, labor unions may be considered minority groups.
There have been different forms of “caste” systems throughout history, where classes are set off from each other. Religious leaders, kings and queens, nobles had great power; those who raised the food and made the goods everyone needed were at the bottom of society.
India is a country in which some people believe in previous existences. They believe that how we live today depends on how we lived in a previous life. While obviously creating differences, the caste system is not regarded by most Hindus as unjust. At least, that’s what they’ve been taught.
Have you ever heard of the term “pecking order”? It’s a way of life natural to the animal kingdom in which the strongest dominate in order to survive. The “stronger” traits are genetically passed on, to ensure the survival of the species.
In the same way, if a few of our tribal ancestors were sick, injured or too old to work, the old tribes would separate these people from the safety and comfort of the tribe. Sometimes they were sent out to die — a very cruel act, but one they deemed necessary in the early development of tribes so the tribes could feel secure.
Survival for the old tribes, like the Sioux Indian Tribe above, meant that everyone had to be fit, or else their survival would be threatened.
Today, human beings have carried this thinking into modern times, even though the world is vastly different than it was thousands of years ago. Some people believe that we humans need to have a pecking order. They have developed “theories” that “prove” that certain races or countries are superior to other races and countries.
Even though most people today have the opportunity to live in physical security, so many continue to act like members of the primitive tribes of yesterday, still trying to prove who is strongest, best, “right.” But today, that way of thinking is more likely to be destructive than safe. Today, identifying with a “tribe” gets us the opposite of what we want, which is to survive and to live in peace.
Minorities today are dealt with in two different ways: they either become part of the culture, or they are persecuted. In the process of becoming part of the culture, values and ways of thinking are exchanged and shared between a minority and the majority.
Persecution and oppression, on the other hand, separate people and have resulted in such acts as segregation, slavery, ejection and genocide. And in today’s world, the most disturbing effect is the devastation and annihilation of millions of people.
Most of us are brought up to be “good, ” which can create prejudice about ourselves. Learning to be good is important, but how we are taught can make a difference in how we see “good.”
Adults mean well when they teach children, but they don’t always realize that the way they teach what it means to be “good” can create conflict inside their children. A child can feel bullied when persuaded to be “good” about something that the child questions.
Inner conflict can arise between judgment and the ideal. If we are judged as being less than perfect, this creates conflict in our mind. If we do something judged as “good,” we can feel set to be some kind of ideal picture of perfection. Most of us know that we are not perfect, so this can create conflict inside us. The ideal of “perfection” is a destructive image. It’s something we can never completely achieve.
When we are taught to understand how we have been conditioned – how we all think and act in ways that bring about conflict, we are less likely to feel insecure or doubt about our self-worth.
Our “Forgotten Ancestors” who lived in tribes realized that there is safety in numbers. This was the beginning of “tribal identification” – keeping the group together for self-preservation. Their tribal rituals were passed from one generation to the next.
In our world today, we are all recipients of tribal inheritance from those who went before us. Shouldn’t we question any organized belief system to find out – for ourselves – if it is true or false, healthy or destructive?
The effect of being conditioned with prejudices, without questioning them, is that we become robots – mechanical beings programmed and controlled by others.
When we’re young, we need intelligent guidance to help us make appropriate decisions. This is education. But sometimes there are “authorities” that want to condition us to automatically accept their established beliefs without question.
Some use slogans, promises, play emotional music — all to condition us to empower them with authority. Some want us to vote them into office, give them money, help them in their power games, go off to war to fight and kill.
We cannot always tell which are telling the truth and which aren’t. Some authorities will give us healthy and constructive direction, and others will not.
The effects of prejudice are many. Some of the most prominent are:
If we don't understand prejudice at its roots, and end it before it becomes a problem, then we’re destined to pass them on to our family and friends, the way they were passed on to us.
A scientist examines a subject much like a detective at the scene of the crime. A scientist looks for solutions to the problem and works hard to not let emotions rule. A good questioner observes the facts, and from these facts comes upon certain insights. With each piece of evidence, such an investigator begins to see what’s happening — via first-hand experience, rather than relying on what he or she’s been told.
Attempting to live the “ideal” — trying to think only peaceful thoughts — creates conflict inside us, because it’s based on judging ourselves as “bad.” Questioning idealistic thinking that prevents peace — gives us peace.