Prejudice is a Communicable Disease (Transcription)
Hi this is Dr Ron Kaiser and this is the May 2011 podcast for The Mental Health Gym. This podcast is being created a few days later than I had anticipated.
Although we’ve had our warmest week in Philadelphia so far the spring, I‘ve still managed to get a mild sore throat with a touch of laryngitis and today’s the first day that I feel like I might be able to make through the whole thing without having to stop too many times to cough or having my voice crack or something like that.
If that doesn’t work you probably won’t know about it because one of the benefits of the digital era is that I can stop it and not send it to you if it this just doesn’t work. Let’s give it a try and see what happens because I think that today’s topic is a pretty important one.
I’ve entitled it “Prejudice Is a Communicable Disease” because I think you spread it to others and get it to yourself if you are prejudice. Let me explain first of all I don’t want to insult your intelligence. I know that most people, who become part of The Mental Health Gym, subscribe to its philosophy and visit its website, tend to be pretty good about trying to be as mentally fit as possible and prejudice really is incompatible with mental fitness. It’s a draining emotion and if you are prejudiced toward others you’re likely to feel pretty unhealthy yourself and drained and so on.
So I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on some of the classical stuff you know that prejudice tends to be an opinion that’s derived before hand from a limited number of characteristics and we tend to assign generally negative characteristics to an individual or group, based upon really a total putdown of that individual or that group because of skin color, religion, sex, height weight, whatever it may be. What we’ve seen overtime is that these ideas don’t hold up. For example, it wasn’t that long ago in the United States that women and African Americans couldn’t even vote let alone run for office.
I guess it was a while ago but it’s certainly a part of our history. More recently we’ve had women run for the office of president and vice president of the United States and in the last election in 2008, an African American male Barrack Obama was elected President. Now some of you may or may not agree with his policies or whether he’s a good president or not, but at this point, nobody who’s saying really would argue that he lacks the characteristic to be president, that he’s too dumb to president or that you couldn’t find Caucasian who are less bright and less industrious than he is.
The opposition to him may occur for other reasons. It’s kind of interesting in the last election for example I knew somebody who was prejudice against him because at that time Obama was still smoking and he felt that that reflects a weakness of character.
So maybe we’ve come a ways in the evolution of prejudice that you would say that my friend was able to actually be prejudice against Obama for something that he could’ve been prejudiced toward Caucasians, Asians and others toward, rather that their skin color. At any rate what we found overtime is that some of the characteristics that we ascribe to groups of people just don’t hold up.
At one point females for example made up a very small percentage of medical school and law school classes and now it’s up to almost 50% in both cases. It’s not unusual to have a female physician or a lawyer treating you and most people don’t think a whole lot about it. Most people might actually prefer being treated by a woman physician for certain characteristics that they may ascribe to or perhaps in a prejudice way in some cases.
Anyway fact is that overtime a lot of prejudices tend to die out and in some cases people move on to a much more healthy way of living and treating other people. The thing that I really want to emphasize the fact that prejudices tend to be based upon a total putdown, usually based upon one characteristic, whether it be religion, whether it be race, size, gender, whatever it may be and then we attach a whole lot of other characteristics associated to it.
You know the old drill that supposedly women were incapable of making the major decisions to run companies and countries and so on and throughout and that’s obviously been destroyed as an idea .The notion that African American could not run a country or a company or a local government effectively has been disproven in many cases. Because of the fact that the individual characteristics of the person aside from race or gender determine how good they are at doing their job.
Now one of my concerns is the fact that if you think in those terms, if you think in prejudiced terms, you almost have to be prejudice toward yourself and I don’t mean in a favorable way, actually kind of prejudiced against yourself, that’s why call it a communicable disease. Think that you do it to others and it inevitable causes you to do it to yourself.
If you are prejudice you will generally assign a certain characteristic to yourself and say that you can’t do something because you fit this category, either you have a history of a loser, being a loser or you’re shy, or you’re not intelligent enough, or you… I did a recent blog on the “too excuse” where people say that they’re too old or too young or too emotional or too whatever and if you use that you’re really disregarding all the other parts of you.
I work with headache patients and one of the important things that I try to instill upon them is that they’re really people with headaches. Patient should not be the central part of their definition even though they may have very debilitating headaches but the fact is that they are also still wives or husbands or daughters, sons, employees and certain kinds of areas they may be interested in music or sports or they may be good gardeners or whatever it may be. It’s important to recognize that each of us have, each of us is made up of a collection of traits, rather than a specific category that we would have to put ourselves down for.
If we put ourselves down totally because of a particular characteristic or particular category that we assigned to ourself, it inevitably follows that we can’t achieve maximum growth and development as a person. One of the things that we found out over time is that when people are challenged and when people are interested and when people are motivated then all bets are off in terms of their ability to achieve. They may not achieve, but it won’t be because of the characteristic. Some of you hearing this podcast either yourselves or somebody you know may have been told by a school counselor at one time or by teacher that they’d never be able to be college material or they’d never be successful or so on.
That’s been disproven too many times to make that a thing for anybody as a guideline. There’s no doubt that some characteristics may make it more difficult for you to achieve in certain areas than in others but then again motivation is the key characteristic and motivation is really kind of incompatible with prejudice because prejudice in essence puts you down and if it sets the ground rules, so that you’re in that category, it really works against motivation.
At The Mental Health Gym our goal is change and growth and positive direction. That’s kind of impossible with prejudice thinking whether it be toward others or toward yourself. So hopefully as an outcome of this podcast you’ll be tempted to think in terms of belonging to not a single group based on a characteristic but as a person who possesses several different characteristics all of which combine to make you the unique person that you are.
Some of those things may be more growth enhancing than others some of which may be more minable to change than others. But if you define yourself as unique individual it can lead to making the appropriate decisions that can lead to change and to personal growth.
If you define yourself as fitting a particular category that has inflexible characteristics attached to it that are shared with lots of other people in a particular group and none of you can change because you’re all either losers or unlucky or too emotional or not risk takers and things of that nature. If you take that as a starting point then that interferes motivation and it makes it impossible to change.
At any rate I hope that this has given you some food for thought, I’ll be glad to hear your thoughts about it so feel free to communicate with me at the mental health gym and that concludes our podcast for today until next time this is Dr Ron Kaiser wishing you a good month and I’ll see you in June.