There are two types of twins: identical and fraternal. Fraternal twins are when there are two embryos in the mother’s womb due to the presence of two fertilized eggs, producing babies that can differ in sex, appearance, temperament and so on. Identical twins occur when two embryos originated in the same ovary/sperm pair. Although it is hard to tell them apart physically, their characters may differ, resulting in much innocent fun based on the resemblance, more so the more different they are in temperament.
Let’s use identical twins as a metaphor for belonging and prejudice. These, too, originate from a single embryo, the basically benign trait of belonging; they look the same, but are different in reality, which can generate confusion—not innocent fun, but tragedy.
On the outside, each of these traits is a manifestation of our instinct to belong to something larger than ourselves. However, belonging does this in a healthy manner, while its twin, prejudice, is malignant. Belonging and prejudice are states of mind; we move between them consciously or unconsciously. We can choose to transition from one to the other. But feelings and behaviors are colored by our emotions. Since the two look identical, we may imagine that we are asserting our belonging, whereas we are actually being prejudiced, and the reverse.
Let us compare our state when belonging to our state when prejudiced:
The person who is in a state of prejudice:
- gravitates toward entities out of a need to do so. He feels protected and confident when within them; not being part of a group makes him feel alone and afraid, insecure and incomplete.
- meets a stranger and immediately searches for his banner. If it is unclear, he starts to form conspiracy theories and looks for a hidden agenda. A prejudiced person can’t imagine that someone can live alone without being part of a group; he is weak, in need of protection, he can’t imagine a strong person living alone without protection.
- is motivated by fear and wariness. Every moment of his life, he fears for himself and the entity to which he is part.
- has a constant sense that the “others” are waiting to ambush him. This fear threatens his very sense of existence; therefore, he must be in constant readiness for attack. This places him under constant stress.
- Is part of only X group, Y group or Z group; he cannot be a member of more than one, and when he joins a group, he then becomes part of an “Us” against the rest.
- needs to isolate himself from and search for differences with others. He is reactive to others and there is no room for compromise.
- feels stronger when part of the big picture rather than an individual with his own thoughts and ideas.
- thinks that what he believes is the truth and everything else is lies. He believes that his group is sacred and infallible, not to be questioned and no room for improvement.
- feels attacked when criticized and therefore, must attack first.
- is confused and suspicious of the thought of multiple allegiances, and believes his allegiances must be clearly and narrowly defined.
The person who is in a healthy state of belonging:
- chooses his groups because he wants to, not because he needs to. He does not need this group to feel an intrinsic sense of completeness.
- is eager to learn from strangers, and offer in return what he knows. He is strong and integrated, and can see strength and integration in others. He is open and prepared to accept them and to be accepted by them.
- is motivated by love: love for what he belongs to, and love for others.
- reflects inner peace, calm and assurance.
- is non-exclusive; and can belong to X, Y and No-one and no entity monopolizes him.
- seeks common ground with others and is always open to compromise
- has an independent existence, and opinions of his own; and those opinions may differ from the other members of the entity he belongs to.
- is not absolute that what he belongs to is sacred, it may prove to be right or wrong.
- can see the flaws in his chosen allegiance, and works towards developing it and correcting its flaws
- has room for and can coexist with everyone.
- is prepared to belong to multiple entities, this gives him balance.
Reiterating what was stated above, about confusing identical twins because they look alike. Confusing belonging with prejudice happens often: we act with prejudice, thinking we are acting out of loyalty to our group. Sometimes we use misnomers, and then believe them, which only confuses us more. Most of us hate to be called prejudiced or racist, but sometimes we practice these traits under the banner of belonging, which allows us to be prejudiced in comfort.
Misdiagnosis renders even the best remedy ineffective. Prejudice and belonging are primarily states of mind, not a type or race; moving between the two, therefore, is a decision which rests in our hands. We can do it if we decide. But with a bad diagnosis, we won’t feel any need to change: why fix what isn’t broken, right?
This exercise is not about judging or finding fault with others, but to question ourselves. Are we practicing prejudice, or belonging?