Years ago I visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which is designed to examine racism and prejudice. After buying a ticket, I was directed to wait for the tour guide in front of two huge doors. Above each door was a sign; one said “Prejudiced” and the other “Unprejudiced.” When the time came to enter the Museum, the doors and signs lit up and the visitor momentarily had to choose which door to pass through. The “Unprejudiced” door displayed these words: “Think…. Now use the other door.”
Everyone, to one degree or the other, harbors a vestige of racism, bias and/or prejudice against someone or some group. I was reminded of this reality as a student at Princeton Theological Seminary where, during lunchtime, the white students generally ate in one area, while the black students ate in another. There wasn’t open hostility, or even anger. Away from the lunchroom there was collegiality and respect born of either academic prowess or spiritual devotion. But during lunch, for some reason, race seemed to matter.
People still, for the most part, congregate in racial clusters; faith communities, neighborhoods etc. What allows people to fearlessly come together is RESPECT; respect as a fellow human being for whom life has not always been easy; respect as a fellow human being who has been victimized by meanness; respect as a fellow human being who struggles with the reality that they too have perpetrated meanness—in some form or fashion. None of us are perfect. We all have our flaws and idiosyncrasies. Accepting the reality of our personal flaws and biases, is the first step to insuring that we do not mindlessly act out inappropriately toward those who are different from ourselves.
Having developed forgiveness education curriculum, and taught forgiveness education to cancer patients, students and faith communities around the country for over ten years, the most common barrier to forgiving someone is an inherent feeling of self-righteousness; the sense that we are a good and better person than the (real or perceived) wrongdoer. We point the finger at the wrongdoer saying “You’re bad!,” implying that we, the finger pointers, are good. Only the self-righteous reach that conclusion. Humility always precedes the act of forgiveness.
The next time bias, prejudice and thoughts of discrimination wade into the water of your mind:
“Think…..” Now offer humility and respect.
Barry is an author andresearchassociate with FoRGo,a forgiveness and resiliency project led by research scholar,Dr. Loren Toussaint, Ph.D., from Luther College.