more on prejudice

Prejudice may result from fear or caution, or a negative experience, or from laziness. It may also result from ideology, political opinions, wishful thinking, or stubbornness. Fortunately for us, as we study our own prejudices, and learn to see past our initial responses, the easier it becomes. Unlike many other human failings, the more we work on our prejudices, the easier it is to eliminate them. This is because the elimination of prejudice opens up more opportunity for understanding and happiness. My friend, Gillyk asked: “Is it possible, I wonder, ever to be completely free of all taint of prejudice?” I believe that it is possible, and that many have succeeded. But we must be aware of the fact, that even when we are acting without prejudice, others may see us as prejudiced, because of their own prejudice. Bending over backwards, or providing certain people with ‘extra’ rights in order to repair an unjustified or unfair situation, is a very dangerous strategy, and doesn’t usually improve the health of society.

it is customary for the people of Jerusalem to leave bread out for the birds

There are certain popular concepts that are widely accepted, but are untrue and misleading. Are all men created equal? No. But we do believe that they are created with equal rights. On the whole, men are taller than women. But almost every man is able to find a particular woman who is taller than he is. One has to be free to see the exceptions, and similarly, we have to be free to make certain wide sweeping generalizations, without being accused of hatred, racism, and other crimes against humanity.

the lion of Judah is the symbol of Jerusalem

Prejudice is a word that simply means “pre-judgment”. That is, before we have learned all we possibly can, about something… anything for that matter, we sometimes judge it, based on previous opinions, not necessarily connected with the particular situation in front of us.

a visit to the corner grocery

As I mentioned in a previous post on the subject, prejudice does not just refer to our attitudes towards people. If I were to tell you to visualize a table, you might think of a table with four legs, though there are tables with three legs, one leg, and tables that are braced against a wall, and have no legs at all. Thinking about the possibilities may slow down our reaction time to all sorts of stimuli. But it widens our understanding when we view the world around us with an open mind. It is to our greatest advantage, to examine our environment without the walls and blinders of infantile attitudes.

an orthodox Jew on his way home

But in order to remain rational, and take advantage of our intelligence, we have to face certain regrettable circumstances, and not try to impose irrelevant standards on a difficult situation. I may believe in the inherent worth of every human being, and respect for my fellow man whenever and wherever possible. But there are still wars in this world, and though it takes two to tango, if one doesn’t ‘fight back’, one may very well be killed or enslaved by the other side. So it is sometimes necessary to be cautious; especially when the person we are dealing with belongs to a group of people who wish us harm. If a person has been convicted in court for pedophile behavior, it is not prejudice to oppose his employment as a school guard. Or to inform the public that he has moved into a certain neighborhood. We are obliged to care for our own; to protect those we love.

man bringing flowers home for the sabbath

Likewise among animals, despite the fact that the prophet foresaw a time when the lamb would lie down in the company of the wolf, and despite the fact that I have personally witnessed friendships between dogs and cats, cats are very cautious when they see a dog in the neighborhood. They are not willing to risk their lives for the sake of a remote possibility. This is not prejudice. The more we stick to a rational appraisal of what is going on around us, the better and healthier our lives will be, and the greater our accomplishments.

crossing the prophets’ street

I have found that in most cases where there is ingrained prejudice about something, there is a grain of truth, or a misunderstanding, that the prejudice has built on. The important rule is not to allow emotions to take the lead when making judgment, and to have respect for the world around us. It is natural for us to care most about our immediate family, and then our tribe, our nation, our species, and so on. To feel the same love for a flower in our garden that we feel towards a family member, is to deny our selves. But it is possible to have love for all the world that surrounds us.


8 responses to “more on prejudice

  1. This is one of the most thoughtful and balanced pieces on prejudice I’ve read. We can get so caught up in being politically correct that we refuse to acknowledge that wariness is not always prejudice–and that we can continue to love the world while looking at it with open eyes.

    • I dislike ‘politically correct’. Because it tries to save us from thinking for ourselves, and that doesn’t work. There is no short cut, in my opinion. Everyone of us has to make choices all the time. Sometimes they are hard. Thank you for your comment. I’m so pleased that you like my writing.

  2. Oh, Shimon, this is so rich and offers so many ideas to savor. I appreciate your sharing and love, too, your wonderful photographs! Thank you.

  3. Your photographs seem to not be related to the content, unless there’s some symbolic meaning that excapes me. Why?

    • Sometimes, I do use pictures that are not directly related to the subject matter I write about. When I want to amuse my readers, I’m more direct… when I’m thinking to myself, the connection is often abstract. In this case, I was thinking of prejudice, and used the photos as illustrations… but the connections were abstract… perhaps too much so… but I was satisfied with them. Thank you for your comment, Rachel.

  4. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    This is great, Shimon. I love your style of a paragraph then pic with something to learn from it – leaving bread out for the birds, the lion etc.

    I didn’t know that ‘prejudice’ means ‘pre-judgment’ but yes, of course : that does make sense!

    I have to admit, I’ve had a few negative experiences with Aborigines. It’s hard then, isn’t it, to take the next Aboriginal person you meet without any prejudgment.

    Jodanclary is right how wonderfully balanced this article is – & I agree, political correctness is just skewiff.

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying these posts, Noeleen. Not always, when we have a negative feeling about certain people, is it the result of prejudice. Sometimes, it is the result of experiences that justify what we feel. But we have to remember, especially when we’re talking about aboriginal people, that often there is a lot of background to the story… some of it, long before we came on the scene.

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