How Can We Become More Accepting of Others?

Most people select friends and acquaintances by first encountering them at a mutual gathering such as school, church, work, military service, a club, neighborhood, through friends or at political, social or athletic events, all of these methods offer a social context and safe structure in which to select others who are like-minded in at least one dimension of common interests and likeness.

Multiple research studies examined the core of prejudice, distrust, and even fear of those who are “unlike us”. They determined that the fear of the “Unknown” or “the other” is often propelled by instinctual cautionary signals for self-preservation and survival. These fears about encountering those who are different from us may serve as a protective mechanism by evading strangers whose intentions, values or needs may conflict with ours or may even be hostile or dangerous. It is often felt at least awkward or, at worst, unsafe to engage with “them”.

The “clan” connection dates back to ancient times where groups formed by interests, necessities or quests for safety or security and were maintained through loyalty and work-sharing with others.

In modern society, we have greater affiliation gauges to determine whether “the other” is likely to be a friend or foe. To get greater clarity, we often inquire about the connection between a familiar person and his/her acquaintance. We often ask, “How did you meet him/her?” The question may be based on curiosity as well as the desire to gain some contextual information about the new friend. Today we meet people through various activities, interests, institutions of learning, jobs, an affiliation in an organization, shared interests, hobbies or activities. This is how many connections have been and are still made. The personal connection is further cemented through commonalities, respect and affection.

In “The nature of Contemporary Prejudice: Insights from Aversive Racism”, Researchers Adam Pearson, John Dovidio of Yale University and Samuel Gaertner of the University of Delaware found that “Because aversive racists consciously recognize and endorse egalitarian values and truly aspire to be non-prejudiced, they will not act inappropriately in situations with strong social norms when discrimination would be obvious to others and to themselves.” They concluded, “By creating truly egalitarian habits of mind, good intentions will more directly translate into consistent, socially responsible, and just action.” They concluded, “Increasing sensitivity to the discrepancy between their genuine commitment to egalitarian principles and the nature of their biased actions produces self-regulatory responses that can help aversive racists control their bias in the short run and, with practice and effort over time, reduce their unconscious biases in the long run.” This optimistic view is welcomed by all who find racism and discrimination unacceptable, unfair and immoral.

To become more accepting of others:

  • Abstain from indulging in the belief that some people are innately more valuable, superior or holier than others.
  • Accept that all beings should be judged by their conduct and caring for and about others rather than by any other parameter.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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