Ever reflect on why thinking or talking about prejudice can be so uncomfortable? I'm not talking about merely wondering why we become apprehensive and anxious visiting certain topics, but actually reflecting about what actions we chose to cause us to sink into apprehension and anxiety. This is the difference between true reflection and mere wonderment; reflection puts us right in the middle of the mud, whereas wonderment simply gazes in the direction of something, many times simply for entertainment.
There are many exercises to turn wonderment into reflection, and here is one: Each time you use the third person plural 'they', define who 'they' are. The exercise doesn't require an audience, though another person willing to engage the exercise can make for a good discussion. Defining what you individually mean by 'they' temporarily without judgment, allows more of you to come forward, because much of our inhibitions, fears, and challenges in life are based out of fear of judgment, especially self-judgment. Temporarily delaying judgment thus allows the self to observe itself simultaneously from a distance and much closer. Once the raw thought is revealed, then judge it. The point of the exercise is not to scold yourself or prove yourself right or justify why the unfortunate descriptor is necessary, but to incise your language and expose your thought processes. After all, we have many of them throughout the day.
Discomfort of saying certain things displays the lack of the self's acceptance with certain premises. It indicates a lack of conviction, which is ironically what bigots, zealots and really any operator of generality has, because their words unabashedly represent what's in their thoughts. Whether or not you agree with the substance of their conviction is irrelevant, the point is that they say exactly what they think, and they're comfortable with it. There's no moral dissonance in their beliefs and their actions, despite the dissonance between their assumptions and reality.
Whenever moral dissonance is present, it indicates how the self hasn't chosen whether or not they want to take on social values, or develop their own. One can surely have individual values that are in alignment with social values, however those values won't change or take on other premises in the privacy of their own solitude. Hence, solitude is the greatest gift any person can give to themselves, which is reflected in the question by modern philosopher Kristhoffer; "Who are you at 3 in the morning, alone, cold, and in the dark?"
The 'they' analytical exercise above is actually one part of a three part self-observation exercise. The second part of this exercise is observing and recording what you think and say when you are mad or frustrated. For example, I have the habit of blaming the concrete object when I fail at an activity involving one, showing a lack of willingness to accept my own incompetence, insufficiency, or laziness. The key factor is that once you accept the reason for an irrational lashing-out, you can forgive yourself and fix the initial problem.
The third part of the exercise is observing yourself when you are sad. There are many manifestations of sadness, and most of the time sadness only lasts in adults a short amount of time, save for a tragedy or crisis. Sadness shows what we truly value, what we take pride in, our expectations, loves, level of self-confidence, and priorities. It just indicates what is special to us, which is what makes it an excellent tool of self-observation.
Prejudice is a primitive Us-Them group distinction which assumes that in order to preserve associations, dissociations must be made. This is why it operates with generalities rather than specifics. Domestic prejudice (racism, sexism, etc.) is sustained through reacting to potentially threatening Thems, protecting oneself through either mental/verbal, or physical separation. Reverting to the beginning of the essay, when we're uncomfortable, anxious or apprehensive visiting certain topics, it's because we're mentally sensing that some kind of enemy or threatening force is nearby that will expose our dissonance, and threaten our power. Discomfort reveals a lack of conviction, and thus, a lack of reflection.
Thus, understanding prejudices doesn't start with historical investigations or where others made assumptions, but--and it's here I agree 100% with both Orwell and Kristhoffer-- it starts with asking the self: "Why does this -ism appeal to me? What is there about it that I feel to be true?" (856) This question activates self-revelation and judgment, through letting us observe ourselves without creating or perpetuating obstacles.
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