Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prejudice

We live in a dangerous world, as many campaigning today would tell us. Many appeal to our fears to fuel their own drive to power. But often times they resort to feeding our biggest enemy. They label groups as "suspicious", accuse candidates of being up to no good...all but accusing them of being "the enemy". It is a tactic that can separate us more than all our other differences - cultural, economic, religious, language, or politics. It comes in many forms with many names, most provoking automatic defensiveness. But to understand and defeat it we need to see it in it's most basic form.It is called prejudice.

Prejudice, to break it down linguistically, is just pre-judging. It is like a judge ruling a defendant in a trial guilty, before hearing any of the evidence. It is judging an individual based on what we know or think about the group he or she is a part of, rather than on his or her actions. We tend to form opinions about groups -like for instance, blonds - based on a small sample of interactions with some individuals- and make a broad group generalization by which we then use to evaluate any other members of that group. And usually the generalizations we make are not positive.:(

Think of it this way. If you were bitten by a dog as a young child you might be fearful of all dogs. If you avoided dogs because of this, your attitude toward them would be governed by your early experience. All dogs would be judged based on that one encounter you had,even though they may be the most gentle of dogs. If, on the other hand, you were like me, and had multitudes of positive dog experiences while young, you would approach dogs quite differently. Childhood experiences can be very powerful but as adults we need to rise above those or we will remained trapped in our own little world...and be used by those who prey upon prejudice.

The driving force behind prejudice is fear. Like the previous example we can develop fear from early experiences-or learn them from our family or friends. Our strongest, most basic need is self-preservation. Real or perceived threats to that will cause us to become defensive and look for shortcuts to build our defenses. Much like we label medicines and food for quick and safe action, we label people to enable our bodies and minds to react on short notice. But these are dangerous shortcuts. It puts us in a constant state of "fight or flight" and stunts our living. And it hurts others, as well.

We have seen throughout our history that in times of distress we lean towards prejudice. In times of economic downturn we discriminated against many categories of immigrants (Italians, Irish, Jews,Asians,etc). After Pearl Harbor we let fear drive us to lock up thousands of American citizens in internment camps, simply because they were of Japanese ancestry. And after 9-11 we looked with suspicion on anyone who was either Arabic, or Muslim, or whom we thought were. Lately there are those in our country who use the label "Muslim" as a smear and dagger with which to attack their opponents. And we invaded a country (Iraq) which had not attacked us,based on the fear that if we didn't there might be a "mushroom cloud".

How do we battle this? There are three things we need: knowledge, choice, and humility.Knowledge is needed to dispel the fog of the unknown. We have a fear of the unknown often because we think "what we don't know can hurt us"...we do not share the explorers' expectation of wonderful discovery, but rather fear the bad we imagine awaiting us. Get to know those who are different from you - economically, racially, culturally,even politically. Expand your "sample" of experiences so that you will see a truer picture of the "group". Don't judge all dogs by ill-tempered guard dogs, there are many scruffy unconditional lovers out there in dog form.

Choice... you must choose to avoid generalization and welcome the exploration of the unknown. It takes work, but you will be rewarded. Don't be like the American tourist who goes to Paris and dines on hamburgers. Life is too short to be stunted.

And last, humility...you must accept that you are not perfect. We all fall into the trap of generalizations and prejudice from time to time. You must resist it by being willing to examine yourself and work to correct the flaws you find. And you must be willing to extend the grace you give yourself to others...the freedom to be who they are, not some caricature of your fears. As you want to be treated you must treat others. Would you like to be judged based on the bad behavior of someone who looks or dresses or worships as you do? No? Then don't do it to others. It's as simple as that

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remember

Yesterday was a day to remember. Sept 11th will always be day to remember. But what exactly are we remembering and what do we often forget to remember? And what do we do with what we remember? If we only remember the historical event-pictures,video,names and faces and actions/reactions -we are simply historians. If we remember only the pain and anger, the shock and sorrow, we are simply grieving. If we act in revenge and hatred, reacting against real and perceived enemies, we are in danger of simply continuing a cycle of violence that only breeds more violence, death and destruction.

We must remember more. Calling for justice is important, but calling for and contributing to healing is even better. And it extends around the world. We tend to think that war is the only real way to deal with problems we see in the world. We react to conflict instead of being proactive to diffuse situations that can lead to conflict. We pick sides instead of separating the sides and insisting that both sides sit down and talk. We look down on diplomacy as less manly,as giving in. I think sometimes we just like fighting too much.

Look at our dealings with Latin America. How many times over the past century-plus have we intervened in one country or other, always blaming outside forces - like the Soviets mostly - for the trouble? And we ignore the base issues - land distribution and discrimination both racially and economically - that are often fueling the conflict. We have supported many terrible leaders simply because they were "anti-communist" and enraged those they were oppressing.

Our actions in the Middle East have not been much better, fueled by a "stop the Soviets at any cost" mentality...and the effects have lingered far beyond the fall of the USSR. We have chosen sides instead of choosing the pursuit of peace and it has cost us nearly.

But the most important thing to remember is: Remember who we are. Remember what our values are, what makes us different from the extremists who value violence above all. Remember that we have a call to "seek peace and pursue it", a mandate to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and a simple mantra "what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before thy God". Those are the high points of faith, not judgment and revenge.

As Americans we say we value freedom to speak, to worship, yet in these days many are denouncing and demonizing those who choose to worship differently. We take the crimes of a small deranged minority of one religion and use that to proclaim the whole religion and its followers guilty. And we proclaim that they must "prove" their innocence. This is unAmerican and hateful. This is contrary to all that we profess to believe.

Remember, yes I remember where I was and what I was doing when the towers got hit and when they fell, and I will never forget that. But more importantly I remember who I am , both as an American and as a believer in Christ, and I will never forget that either. This is a legacy of my parents that I strive to live out every day. This is who I am. Who are you? And what will you remember?