Prejudice gives a momentary feeling of superiority

Most people sincerely state that they are not prejudiced. They disavow holding negative views of others based on their race, religion, lifestyle, opinions or affiliations. Yet, many of us are quick to judge the behavior of others and conclude that they are inferior to us: “ They drive like idiots, their beliefs are crazy, their choices are insane, they make stupid decisions”, to name a few. Judgmental stances distance us from the connection we desire and deserve to have with others.

The dictionary definition of Prejudice is “a bias against. An opinion, judgment or evaluation, favorable or more common unfavorable, conceived without proof or competent evidence, but based on what seems valid to one’s own mind.”

Regrettably, the roots of prejudice are associated with survival benefits and thus are hard to be avoided. From early days, belonging to a clan safeguarded our survival. It assured our mutual bonds to each other and cemented our loyalty by declaring another clan members as the “evil enemy”.

Durkheim in “The Division of Labour in Society”, first published in 1893, described the mechanical solidarity and interdependence people in rural life created. Their commonality bonded them into effective collective units. In “Social Identity” Richard Jenkins states, “Collectivity means having something in common, whether ‘real’ or imagined, trivial or important, strong or weak. Without some commonality there can be no collectivity.” Abner Cohen’s ideas as stated by Jenkins, “ ‘community’ encompasses notions of similarity and difference, ‘us’ and ‘them’ again. Recognition of a ‘sense of us’ and community stems from the awareness that things are done differently there, and the sense of threat that poses for how things are done here.”

Today, people still tend to create their group of affiliation. The less you are like me- the more you pose a threat to me. As intangible as these thoughts and feelings may be, they do guide our behavior. To boost our safety and security, we are inclined to define “our group” as better than, superior to and more desirable than the “other” group. We do so in sports, politics, community locale and more. Our superior attitude is intended to bolster our confidence and reduce our fear of vulnerability in view of the “other”.

Many prejudicial attitudes are learned. Tots hear their parents berate others and absorb these biases that may be held for life, or questioned in adulthood as to their veracity and usefulness.

All human beings are equally valuable and lovable and uniformly yearn for connection, acceptance and love. With very few exceptions of those who commit heinous crimes, people seek to belong with and be valued by those they encounter.

The title of Thomas A. Harris’ book ” I’m o.k. You’re o.k.” lightheartedly summarizes all religions’ universal edicts of acceptance, caring and respect for others as the decent, moral way to conduct one’s life.

• Accept that feeling superior to another is a momentary tool for self-value and safety. It is NOT a good avenue for permanent self-esteem, since it dissipates quickly and requires an ongoing search for another person to disrespect to restore one’s own esteem.
• Realize that judging another is a prejudicial stance. It is based on no facts just your opinion of the moment. “The idiot driver” may be rushing someone to the hospital or may be distracted by pain or worry. If indeed he is arrogant, your graciousness of allowing his passage is the decent reaction and may save two or more lives.
• Treat others with dignity. Most people live up to the expectations placed upon them and may become reciprocally kind to you and others as well.
• Listen to your judgmental or prejudiced thoughts. Ask yourself how they benefit you. Affirm yourself or seek from others the validation of your decency and worth.
• Model for your children and others acceptance and tolerance- it enriches us all.

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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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