The problem with prejudice is that it doesn’t allow the truth to come forward. We all have rational minds to discover truth for ourselves. We don’t have to believe something just because someone told us it was true. We don’t have to believe something because that’s the way it is on television or because that’s the way our friends and relatives believe it is.
For example, I have a friend who just can’t keep from putting down all the fat people he sees in the grocery store. It disturbs me when people classify others by their appearance, which may very well be something they can’t help. I know that some people can put away lots of food and not gain any weight while others eat the same amount and are fat. Their bodies handle food differently.
Of course, categorizing people by their appearance is very common in our society. I think it comes from lazy thinking. When I went from a small eastern Oregon town to the University of Oregon, I met people from all over the country – the world, even – the likes of whom I never met before.
One lady was from Mississippi. She spoke with a heavy southern accent. When I first heard her, I felt sorry for her because I thought she must be very dumb! As she talked, I realized that she was very bright and better educated than I. I had been brainwashed by television and films. It was a good lesson for me about prejudice.
Religious prejudice can be just as bad. I was going to write a couple of stereotypical religious jokes here, but they are just too painful. Racial jokes tend to be the same way. Sometimes ethnic jokes can also be very painful. These are common devices of comedians and bullies to get a reaction from their audience or victims. They divide people and lead to alienation and various types of destruction.
Some kinds of prejudice are not so obvious. Sometimes we blame people for not doing what we expect them to do, instead of looking for understanding.
I remember a beautiful little girl in my public school kindergarten music class who happened to be of a different race. She always did everything she was supposed to do except join in the music games we played every day.
I never made her participate, but I could tell that she wanted to do what we were doing. She watched everything closely and learned most of the lessons being taught.
At conference time, I had to say something to parents. The next time she came, she announced that she had to participate. Tentative participation at first turned into joyful, high-quality learning. I still don’t know why she didn’t want to join what we were doing, but I’m so pleased by the decision not to force compliance. Prejudice could have easily ruined her whole attitude toward music.
Another time the pastor of a church came to my house and asked me to direct the church choir. I agreed to do the job and found out later that I would even get paid a monthly salary.
A year later, the church got a new pastor who discovered I was a Baha’i. He thought I didn’t accept Christ as the son of God and I don’t know how many other wrong things. He believed what he had been taught and didn’t listen to my explanation. I was fired for being Baha’i, which caused an uproar in the church. The choir refused to sing. An open-minded investigation of the truth would have shown the pastor how much I loved Christ.
Everybody has prejudices of one kind or another. We get them from books, television, parents, friends, teachers, and our own tendencies to blame someone else for our own problems. If we want to have a healthy society, we need to always seek the truth for ourselves, consult with each other in a spirit of good will, and find points of agreement so that we can work together for the good of all.
I think Interfaith Works is just such a place to find others who are also seeking the truth and finding ways to build a better world. We put our preconceived notions behind us and see beyond our differences to the good spirit within. Then we use that commonality for the good of our community. We are overcoming prejudice!Richard Young is a member of the Baha’i Faith of the Baha’i Assembly of Thurston County East. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.