An article in Psychology Today points out that prejudice is something that human beings may do fairly naturally. Part of our success as a species has been the ability to categorize things into groupings that we deem “safe” and others that may not be so “safe.” In a hostile environment the ability to make safe choices quickly may have allowed our species to thrive.
But the world has tamed down quite a bit. We generally do not have to worry about which of the people at work might kill us for food or fight with us for use of the water cooler.
Our classification and distrust of people and things that are “not like us,” however, persist.
What can we do about this? If not globally, are there things I can do to understand and put aside such prejudice?
The same Psychology Today article has a stunning suggestion: make friends! Dr. Lisa J. Cohen explains:
“Positive emotional experiences with members of different groups can reduce negative stereotypes. Having close friends from different groups is especially effective in this regard. There may be several reasons for this. For one, it is near impossible to hold onto a simplistic, negative stereotype of someone you know well. Secondly, a close relationship promotes identification with the other person and of the groups they belong to. In other words, your relationships with other people become part of who you are.”
Could it be this simple?
I suspect that we all have prejudiced or stereotyped ideas about all kinds of people: men or women, rich or poor, various ethnic groups, immigrants, youth or the elderly, religious groups, the handicapped, sexual minorities—the list goes on.
Maybe it’s time to be brave. Maybe it’s time to take a child-like chance of getting to know somebody who’s a little different. Maybe it’s time to open my heart to new people, new ideas and new ways of being.
At the least, I’ll make a new friend. At the most, I’ll begin the process of halting the world’s prejudice, intolerance, racism and hatred—one friendship at a time.