the day after 9/11 we re-visit the problem of the "other"
At the end of a day like that ~ one in which I have made the strongest effort I can to be the peace I want to see in the world ~ I inevitably come back to Dr. Ken Cloke's meditation on stereotyping, a universal cognitive bias that makes it easier for us to take short-cuts in determining who to trust and who to fear but which can turn ugly and violent if the flames of fear are fanned into hatred by people who wish to use it for partisan political or nationalistic purposes.
I've never been able to say it any better than Ken.
So here it is.
Prejudice is complex and operates on many levels. It can be found not only in insults and judgments, caricatures and stereotypes, but refusals to listen and communicate, stories of demonization and victimization, inability to experience empathy with others, and infinitesimal denials of humanity. It is reflected in personal selfishness and hostile relationships, bullying and aggressive behaviors, and ego compensations based on poor self-esteem. It is expressed through contempt, disregard, and domination, as well as through low status, inequitable pay, and autocratic power.
Prejudice commonly operates by stereotyping. People form stereotypes, in my experience, in eight easy steps:
1. Pick a characteristic
2. Blow it out of proportion
3. Collapse the person into the characteristic
4. Ignore individual differences and variations
5. Disregard subtleties and complexities
6. Overlook commonalities
7. Match it to your own worst fears
8. Make it cruel
If these steps routinely produce prejudice, it is possible to undo them, for example, by making people more complex than their stereotype permits, or distinguishing unique individuals within a group, or recognizing commonalities between people. It helps, in doing so, to acknowledge that everyone is equal, unique, and interesting; that everyone forms prejudices; that everyone can learn to overcome them through awareness, empathy, and communication; and that everyone can become more skillful in communicating across stereotypes and lines of separation created by fear.