Learning to unlearn prejudice

“All we hear is an opinion, not a fact. All we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Marco Aurelio 

“A person who judges others will inevitably judge himself severely. Only when one stops judging others, it’s when one can really appreciate inner beauty.”

Ando Oomae

In life, new microsystems are developed from an action or a personal change. Courtship, marriage, maternity are examples in the private sphere. A change of company, job position, or unemployment can develop microsystems in the professional arena. These “new” communities which involve family members, friends, colleagues, and strangers create daily life situations such as advice, requests, disagreements, solidarity, seniority, and criticism. Some of them are requested, but many unsolicited. Prejudice is either the origin or the result of those daily actions. It stands out as the new game to play. Prejudices are concepts or opinions that we create in advance about a person or situation before having any evidence, direct or actual experience. It consists of positively or negatively labeling a situation, or a person without having enough prior reasoning. This attitude can be observed in all life areas, and social stratification since its practice and generalization are established as judgments and beliefs in the human subconscious.

This year I was fortunate to experience total openness on this subject. During my studies of Ontological Coaching, I have read and reflected on how prejudice impact our way of perceiving life and how we see our fellow men and women. I felt a transformation on the way I am now receptive and aware of the deliberate way of using prejudices in my daily life and those around me. It brought to the first row of my consciousness the construction of stories and personal identities that I have created in life. Judgments supported by the weak, illusory legs of prejudices. Prejudices which the only thing that kept them standing was my ignorance, my own will, and pride.

In this article, I would like to share how little or much I’ve learned so far about how we make judgments and construct beliefs based on prejudice. Besides, to propose a few practices which can help us detect prejudices and break stories in seconds that lead to suffering, attack, and put a shield of self-defense.

As a mother of three, I have experienced the prejudices that surround motherhood on several occasions. Without giving much importance as a newcomer to the club, I was forming my own beliefs about the new game. Underneath guidance, recommendations, requests, solidarity, and seniority, laid the layers of prejudices and beliefs. I remember people expressing their opinions on, if I was breastfeeding too short or too long, either if I should go back to work, or have stayed longer at home. People have kindly provided me critics on co-sleeping, education, vaccines, nutrition, clothes, toys, screen time, you name it. I remember myself thinking many times how intrusive a question was, how deceived an opinion looked like, how impertinent the person behaved, or how the rudeness of a comment felt. But, as prejudice can be perceived as unfavorable, some of the stares, the opinions may have the opposite effect. They may encourage and have a sense of care. Even sometimes, I felt awkward and angry; many other moments, I felt kindness in others; I felt valued and understood. 

Prejudice goes both ways, and both sides either enjoy it or hate it. The question is, what the reason behind to engage in this game is? We may not even have direct contact with “the mother” (as in my case) or those “others” (a park, a restaurant, a chat with a third person, social media); however, we let ourselves prejudice pretty quickly. We don’t stop to reason what we have heard, read, or seen. Neither we stop to analyze the prejudice which appears in our minds, and recognize the message behind that speaks about us. It seems we humans must assign labels to belong, connect, and transition to a new situation. We unconsciously repeat learned patterns. However, prejudices carry with them an emotional charge. Their roots are in our principles, values, beliefs, and defense mechanisms.

As expected, these prejudices are often learned since childhood and have become generalizations and beliefs over time. Indeed, we have evolved and matured with the experiences of life. However, for some reason, there are images connected to those prejudices that we have anchored deeply inside. We link unconscious emotions to them and make conclusions that, until they come to the foreground, will continue to be repeated. So, if we want to understand the meaning of the prejudices we repeatedly do, we must penetrate the irrational layers of our consciousness and emotionally relive our childhood. Find that child who has not yet assimilated what the adult has learned. Finding the first time we gave power to the prejudice that we experience in the present time, and connects it with the image-conclusion that we have today.

But you may wonder what for deep in on prejudices and judgment? The positive prejudices that cause a message of love, recognition, value, speaks of the issuer. But also talk about the judger, prejudices which have a content of self-doubt, distrust, and diminish. Recognize the hidden meaning of these erroneous defense mechanisms, should be at the table of reflection and self-responsibility. It is said that our judgment of others is an extension of self-judgment; even this self-knowledge is not conscious. Therefore, if at the time of releasing a prejudice, we allow ourselves to observe it, we will enter into a process of consciousness that will give us greater clarity of understanding. We will identify where it comes from, the stories we have built from it, and find the actual utility of recognizing it for our personal growth.

According to historian Yuval Noah Harari, in the book 21 lessons for the 21st century:

“Once personal identities and entire social systems are built on a story, it is unthinkable to doubt it, not because of the supporting evidence, but because its sinking would trigger a personal and social cataclysm.” A story that almost overlooks the totality of time, the whole space, is, at most, a tiny part of the truth. But somehow, people can’t see beyond it.”

From my way of seeing it, his statement resonates with the way we construct our stories based on prejudices. Rarely, we stop to evaluate a judgment objectively. We make quick, spontaneous, and light judgments. They arrive to stay. It seems that they give us power, provide us with control, and other times a sense of superiority. From prejudice, stories are built, “truths” that, when dismantled, would throw to the window our behaviors, beliefs, and even our identity. Therefore, we get scared and unconsciously or consciously, we cling to them. The ego in order not to be destroyed does not allow us to recognize that the prejudice we emit speaks more of us than of the one to whom it is directed.

However, as we are brave and we are on the path of self-discovery, we understand that nothing is permanent. If our identity falls, we can reconstruct a new version of it — a version that recollects all that has been learned. Below, I share ten practices that I borrow from the author’s Ontology of Language book, Rafael Echeverría. I consider it will serve as a guide for the observation and elimination of prejudice in the future.

1. Take responsibility for what goes on in my mind and out of my mouth. Prejudice always lives in the person who formulates it.

2. Consider that there are no true judgments. The poet, Ramon Campoamor, says: “And it is that in the traitorous world there is nothing truth or lie, everything is according to the color of the glass with which you look.”

3. Treat prejudices as temporary signs to undergo constant reviews. And review the fundamentals of the opposite judgment when founding an absolute decision.

4. Understand how judgments connect with my past, present, and future. What they say about me.

5. Differentiate between affirmations and judgments. Failure to do so results in rigidity, intolerance, and the closure of multiple learning possibilities. This practice is the most important for me personally.

6. Observe that by changing actions and being aware of prejudice, I allow the judgments about me and those I have towards others to change as well. And vice versa, by changing my judgments.

7. Remember that generalized prejudice is unfounded. Be able to distinguish between a founded judgment and an unfounded one. Reflect on your “evidence.” 

8. Do not crucify ways of thinking, situations, or those involved. Remembering that it is in the field of judgments where human beings define the meaning or meaninglessness of existence.

9. Do not appropriate prejudices and judgments of others. Avoid unnecessary suffering.

10. And above all, respect. Respect is the judgment of acceptance of the other as being different from me, legitimate in his way of being and autonomous in his ability to act.

The benefit of performing these ten practices invites us to open a free, courageous, and sincere connection with others. They allow us to remember the power so high that a judgment has for the one who makes it and sometimes for the one who receives it. The practice could serve as a guide to transcend many of those judgments inherited by social systems (family, academy, friends). It allows us to recognize the vulnerability and self-defense mechanisms of one and the others and the opportunity to generate compassion. They will help to understand that judgments give meaning to life, making oneself responsible for the choice of perception about them. If not elimination, I see the possibility through this practice of reducing or enlarging the emotional impact that others’ opinions and views have on oneself. We can identify new paths and bring out new values. It will imply a constant reminder of the reciprocity of respect and acceptance of our differences as human beings. Last but not least, the practice will remind us, our judgments are based on our observation, not on the description of reality.

Thanks for reading me,

Edith

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