Saturday, January 01, 2011

Prejudice? Not

We are indeed, prisoners of our prejudices

We were a polyglot group of foreigners living in our neighbourhood of Tokyo in the 50's. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Americans, British. Children of diplomatic staff who I thought all got along very well with each other, until one day I realized that actually, we didn't.

A group of my friends got together to beat up another of my friends. Why? Because they were Muslim, and he, Hindu. So there were four of them with sticks, waiting for him to show up. They wanted me to join them, but I said no.

Walking away, the wrongness of this struck me. I found him shopping for his mom. When the others attacked, he swung his shopping bag at them, and a glass bottle cut open one kid's head. I told them to leave him alone. When they complained about my warning him, I said "too bad, but it was wrong"

These children were 6-7 years old. We had all played together, and now, because one parent influenced his child, a whole gang were going to beat up on a kid because of what? His parents worshipped another form of God? I doubt that they understood the er, theological differences; they just were being conditioned to hate the other.

Going to school in Pakistan, there were Christians and Hindus who people just had to make comments about. So, contrarian that I was, I had to befriend them. There was one Hindu who had a particularly bad time of it; yet, in visiting his home I found out he actually was related to our family by marriage. Small world.

On the other hand, while growing up in India, my grandparents brought in Hindu tutors who actually snuck in history textbooks about how "cruel the Muslim rulers had been". Oy vey. And my brother told me how a Jewish kid at Karachi Grammar school had been treated very unkindly and how bad he felt about it. Me, I'd have made him my best friend for life :)

And here in the Western world, I see how prejudices against Islam are being manipulated to justify a war against a billion and a half Muslims, and so, even though I'm not one myself, I try to defend them against this. It doesn't matter if the subject had been Jews or Evangelical Christians, it is always the unfairness of the attacks, the views of the stronger against those with no voice against prejudice, that gets me riled.

But this isn't a riff about How Liberal I Am. Many of my views might be termed non-PC, and I am more revolutionary than 'liberal'. What interests me is the psychology of how certain images and prejudices are conditioned into us, not just by religion or society or parents, but by our own experiences and learning.

Of course we have stereotypes and archetypes that might even be reinforced by personal experience and knowledge. Even as an Astrologer I have no problem generalizing about the 12 Astrological signs, because there are no good signs or bad ones. Similarly, while I know that each race and nation has its own karma and er, characteristics, no one is bound by them, because we all have free choice, and the gift of being able to step outside of our own conditioning.

So, I think it is so sad that Muslim kids, or Hindus, or Jews, or Christians, or heterosexuals, or, er, white folk (trust me, 'brown' folk have their own prejudices) learn to fear the other. I think it is so sad that prejudice is so pervasive it can be manipulated for external purposes.

Yet, the heart knows what it loves. How sad it would be if we excluded so many from the list of those whom we can love?

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