How would the world be different if we evaluated our own prejudices?
Recently, as I have seen and heard reactions to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage or the range of responses on Facebook related to Baltimore or Ferguson, an Edward R. Murrow quote has really stuck with me.
Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices–just recognize them.
― Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow was a pioneer in news broadcasting and highly regarded for his honesty and integrity. Spend some time googling quotes from him and you will be amazed at the ideas that still ring very true today, although he spoke them more than 50 years ago. He is most often known for his signature sign-off, “good night and good luck.”
As I think about how people get to their opinions, you know, the ones where white Christians are claiming to feel like the Jews did just before the Holocaust … I can’t help but wonder what got them to the point that is their firm stance. What experience (or lack thereof) leads a person to see the world that way? What brought me to see the world the way I do?
I’m lucky enough to have friends from a very wide range of backgrounds, experience and perspective. Not just from a racial diversity sense, but from careers to education to spiritual perspectives. The truly best people I know all share a similar trait as it relates to their prejudices. They recognize them. They allow for them. They question them. They understand that not everyone sees the world through their lens, but they are willing to challenge their own beliefs and entertain the beliefs of others, knowing the end result is a much more thoughtful and less divisive discussion.
I’ve learned from these people and their behavior, and tried to incorporate some key things to broaden my own awareness and perspective.
Get out of the country. I don’t mean a trip to Mexico to an all inclusive resort. Go experience a different culture, meet new people and see how life is somewhere else. There is nothing quite as eye opening as visiting a place where you are the odd one out.
We often get stuck in our bubbles. Going to work, getting the kids from school, activities, dinner with neighborhood friends, etc. We don’t take the time to get out, to see what is really going on in our city. One way to do that is to volunteer. It is beneficial on several fronts. First, you may meet other volunteers from an entirely different walk of life with a similar passion to help. Second, you will often have the opportunity to interact with people you are helping, which will open your eyes to the fact that they are real people, with the same goals and aspirations you have. I’ve recently been involved with a local nonprofit that works with re-entry to society from prison. I had the opportunity to visit in a small group with a guy who spent twenty two years in prison for murder. He owned it. He didn’t make excuses. But you could see through the story that he had a different life than I had, and that wasn’t entirely based on the choices we made.
Make a friend from a different race or social background
This could sound superficial, but I mean genuinely. It may be harder than you think, but I promise it will have a powerful impact on your world-view. Not the idea having the friend, but what you learn about the cultural differences. The things you may never have considered before or even realized were challenges for people. I went to a small college in Oklahoma and one night some of my teammates from the basketball team and I went out to dinner. They were African American and I’m white … the first place we chose it was clear we were not welcome. It was eye opening. I had never had to experience what they did on a daily basis, but seeing it first hand changed me.
The single most important skill in life, listening, is also critical to recognize and seeing your prejudice. Words matter. Listening to the words you use to describe other people, the words your friends and family use and pay attention to the way people of different backgrounds describe things. This requires making a conscious effort and setting aside the idea that you know what someone is about to say. Respect the people you interact with regardless of what you believe you know about them.
What I love about the Edward R. Murrow quote above is how it acknowledges none of us is free from prejudice. It is part of life and combines where we have lived, how we were brought up and the impact of our friends and family. But most importantly, we aren’t stuck with that perspective. Through purposeful and conscious effort we recognize where these come into our lives and we can strive to be better.