Reacting to a particular evil by painting a whole set of people with the same big brush, also known as profiling, might just be worse than the original evil the painter experienced. By examining the true cause of the evil, we can paint with a much smaller brush. Instead of painting “THEM ALL” with a huge brush, we paint “that one” with the smaller one.
There is one big “them” that I believe it is entirely appropriate to lump in together and paint with a very large brush. Heck, you can use a paint sprayer. That particular group of people are called douche bags. It is the one group that includes individuals from every other group of people on the planet, and they are the cause of most strife. No matter what group you may belong to, I promise you, there are douche bags in your group.
Outside of painting people with the enormous douche bag brush, we should not ever be using any brush larger than one that is appropriate for a single individual. Even when we might be clever enough to spot consistent behavioral patterns within a group (stereotypes), your observation will never, ever constitute 100% coverage of the entire group. Thus, any group attribution you might make is not reflective of that group as a whole. It is impractical and illogical to assign the characteristics of one person to an entire group. That one person did not act like a douche bag because of their race, creed, gender, age, or whether they are left or right-handed. If someone did something evil to you, they did so because they chose to perform an evil act; no more, no less. Assigning their singular behavior to an entire group of people causes division and strife.
The word prejudice comes from the Latin praejudicium, which is a compound word that means “in advance” + “judgment.” It is pre-judging, in other words. It is making a judgment about something which has not yet occurred. Because we fear the unknowns of the other groups, we tend to start off with a suspicious approach. When we examine possible outcomes of interacting with the outsider, we imagine a negative outcome based on our prejudicial assumptions. A reasonable, rational analysis of the situation should reveal to us that our previous negative experience was because of an individual, not because of the group.
Even when we know better in our brains, it’s sometimes difficult to overcome the natural reaction to a bad experience that we associate with someone or something in another group. I love dogs, but one time, a large dog bit my hand. It was a bite hard enough to leave a bone bruise, but thankfully not hard enough to tear my thumb off, which this particular dog could have easily done. I continuously have to work hard to overcome this fear based on my experience.
The same courageousness must be shown when we have a bad experience with one member of a group, and we encounter other members of their group. A person who robs a person in a different group will cause that victim to fear other members of the attacker’s group the next time they encounter them. We have to work very hard to overcome the natural instinct to associate fear earned through previous experience.
One way we can be less xenophobic in our reactions is to lessen or even remove that natural fear of the unknown. We can expose ourselves to more personal experiences with members of other groups. This isn’t really that much of a surprise, because fear of the unknown is more easily overcome when the “unknown” part is removed from the equation.
Factors outside of how people are physically different can also cause us to form groups. Of course, religion is a big “group” dynamic. Assigning individual misuse of religion to everyone in that religious group is utterly unfair. If you are a religious person, think about your own group for a moment. There are most likely people within your religious group who do things you feel are not right. It could be terrorist groups such as Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Ku Klux Klan, Westboro Baptist Church, Boko Haram, I.S.I.S., or Red Sox fans. They are not representative of your group. You would feel sorely mistreated if someone acted with prejudice against you because of the actions of someone else in your group.
In October of 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I had someone (I’ll just call them George) say to me “If I see a convenience store with an Arab in it, I’m walking right out.” I pressed this issue, asking whether it was fair to judge and dismiss an entire set of people based on the actions of a misguided few. George said “Absolutely.” I responded that he would have to dismiss and disown me as well, because of the actions of a different group within my religion and race (his as well), and which had perpetrated horrific terrorist acts in the name of that religion and that race.
Please understand this was a very emotionally charged time for most Americans. People were reacting with fear instead of responding with logic. They were acting with their hearts instead of with their heads. Out of unprecedented and raw anguish, people were painting rather vigorously with enormous paint brushes. That is not an excuse, it is an explanation. Even in that scenario, painting an entire group of people who weren’t responsible is still wrong.
How Your Hate Poisons You
George was living with anger and hate toward anyone of Arabic background, because of the actions of a few severely misguided, sick, and thankfully dead individuals. It was and is perfectly understandable for George to harbor feelings of anger toward the perpetrators of the attacks. However, he was living with that poison toward an entire race of people, most of which had nothing to do with the attacks. What happens next? What if he actually did go into a convenience store, see someone of Middle-Eastern descent there, and walk out? The only thing George would have left the store with was more hate. Worse, what if he went into that same store and yelled something hateful at the worker? That worker did not perpetrate the crime. The worker probably shared the same anger toward the attackers. George’s anger and hatred over the event would have possibly spread, and the store employee’s distrust of George’s group would have grown. Nothing productive comes from that.
Who knows how long George lived with that poisonous anger in his heart? Hate poisons the spirit of the hater. If a prejudice or xenophobia exists in a person, it is the person harboring it who has to live with it every day. They suffer the ill effects of that mental toxin in the mind and in the body. It can adversely affect their state of mind in relation to everyone and everything around them. This quote from Siddhartha Buddha describes the effect rather succinctly:
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing
it at someone else; You are the one who gets burned.
I dearly love the old Native American anecdote of the grandfather talking to his grandson about the metaphorical wolves inside of him. They are at constant struggle with each other. The first is the wolf of peace, love, and kindness. The second is the wolf of fear, greed, and hatred. The boy asks his grandfather which wolf will win, and the grandfather replies to him, “Whichever wolf you choose to feed.” Most hatred is borne of outward blame, and sometimes that can turn into outward negative actions. Such preemptive strikes are nothing more than useless escalation, and there is no end to that downward spiral. When one feels they have been egregiously wronged or victimized, they can easily harbor anger toward the source. This is natural. However, the tendency to blame the source’s group is where most people settle, instead of isolating those feelings toward the individual perpetrator. Looking back at George’s anger toward the other ethnic group, the actions of those sick people who undertook the attacks did not stem from their racial origin. They are no more related to ethnogenesis than macaroni is the cause of highway traffic. Assign blame to behavior and choice, not racial composition.
Just because someone looks different or believes different things does not make that the cause of our differences. We have interpersonal drama because of crossed purposes and infringement on our personal autonomy. The things which make us different are not the things which infringe on our autonomy. It is the person with crossed purposes who has made a choice from which we personally suffer. It is that person’s choice, not the choice of the larger group in which they belong. The 9/11 attacks were not the corporate choice of all Arabic people. They were not the choice of all Muslim people. They were the choice of al-Qaeda. That is the group with which we should place the blame and respond appropriately.
Should all German people be blamed for the Holocaust? Should all Christian white people be blamed for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan? Should all Italians be blamed for burning Christians at the stake and feeding them to lions during Roman times? Should all African-Americans be blamed for the actions of the Black Liberation Army? Should all South African people be blamed for Apartheid? Should all Red Sox fans be blamed for the obnoxiousness of all Red Sox fans? Well, okay, maybe that last one is justifiable.