In my last blog, I said, “we have the ability to redefine any concepts which do not serve us well.” I think our definition of prejudice is one such concept, so I propose my argument for redefining it as:
The perception that one’s own belief, knowledge or truth is the most legitimate one.
Two arguments against my definition will likely be obvious. First, one could say my definition is too broad to be useful. And second, one might point out my definition disregards references to the negativity of emotions and actions associated with prejudice found in various dictionaries.
Regarding the first argument, please read my blog “Personal Truth” (4/7/16) in which I talked about how we learn much of what we know from our families and cultures. Some of what we learn is challenged by later experiences, such as in relationships with people outside our original social circles. We may incorporate this knowledge into our own personal truth- or not. Some early learning remains deeply ingrained. In this case we may look for evidence to support our truth if we perceive it to be challenged. Yet in other cases, we may simply believe our truth to be “common sense.” This way of learning and forming our own personal truth is common human experience. It is not possible for any person to have access to the whole of human knowledge and experience in order to choose what we believe. If we did, the conflicts would likely drive us mad! So given we each learn in our own micro-cultures, the breadth of my definition serves to put us all on notice that we are all alike in being capable of grasping only one tiny piece of life’s puzzle. Each of us is biased, prejudiced, toward our own truth.
Regarding the second argument, I think the negativity of emotions and actions are separate from our prejudices. The ways we learn are only partially under our own control, while our emotions, actions and reactions are totally under our personal control. Yes, emotions often arise unbidden; yet we choose how to react to them. The “intolerance, enmity, aversion, hatred” used to describe prejudice are all reactions over which we have control, so they need NOT be associated with how we learn. Negativity is born of fear; fear assumes we have given up our control.
By recognizing the universality of individual human uniqueness, by knowing we all share the same experience of learning in our micro-cultures, we can draw on our innate empathy toward one another. We can allow our prejudices (as I defined them) to lead us toward curiosity, wonder, and understanding. Begin by looking inside; you will see yourself in all those you meet!