The other day a friend cooked me a Chinese recipe. As I write, Russians are attacking Ukrainians. The other day I remembered when I was a kid and my father telling me about the importance of not jumping to conclusions about people, just because someone is different from you. At the weekend my partner was reminding me of some of the nurses who looked after me for weeks and weeks while I was in intensive care.
Sometimes, things just come together.
That made me think about all the different people I’ve known and all the places they come from.
That led me to think how all of that variety of people has a huge and varied potential. A potential that can become any number of different realities.
I was thinking, too, about all the vitriol that’s fuelling so much of modern life these days. Obviously, hatred is between people. And it seems hatred has never been easier – easier to stoke up and, it seems, easier to feel.
And so I ended up thinking about discrimination – any kind of discrimination. Gender, race, age, colour, religion, appearance, community … and so on and so on. There is a seemingly endless range of broad or specific things to focus on and discriminate on the basis of.
And people are good at coming up with reasons for their judgements, for why they discriminate. But they are far less able at assessing the well-springs for their views, the origins of their attitudes. And questioning whether their judgements are in fact valid happens all too rarely.
Some Of My Best Friends Are …
Where do you start if you want to think about discrimination. We’re spoilt for choice.
Years ago at school, a Polish friend was the first person to open my eyes to the weighty baggage that comes with a history of invasion. It’s easy to despise a nation by default if that nation has invaded your homeland. Living in Britain, growing up in Britain, I didn’t have that perspective and had never been taught it.
Working as a kid in a factory and listening to the casual, vicious racism of a white Brit and a Jamaican against a guy from Sri Lanka was a shock and a surprise to me. I’d never experienced anything similar before.
And from those youthful times, the instances of discrimination I was aware of just accumulated.
I hope I’m right in thinking that, in the broadest of broad brush strokes, there’s less discrimination now than there once was. That we’re making progress. But I’m not a fool. I know enough to know how bad it all is.
And thinking about it all, I tried to give opposing discrimination some kind of easy-to-adopt reason, based on my own experience. To that end then:
I’ve known people from dozens of countries. (* There’s a list at the bottom of this page.)
And naturally, all those countries come with their own legacies, their own histories, cultures and what-have-you.
And amongst all those people, I know I’ve known people who actively follow one or another of at least half-a-dozen religions. I’m sure there will be any number of others that I wasn’t or aren’t aware of. A varied reality applies to the sexuality of the people I know or have known.
I could go on, categorising people in this or that way. But that would achieve nothing. Because the real point is that out of all those people, I’ve actively, properly detested just two of them. And their actions towards others in their life made me realise I wasn’t alone. They behaved badly towards other people, by any measure. (And even with these two, I’ve always understood and remembered that hatred is just a waste of energy.)
And most of the other people I’ve known were OK. No more, no less. Which is fine. And just a few of them I really chimed with.
Whether I liked someone or not, got on with someone or not, disliked someone or not, or just never really got to know someone – that all happened because of chance, because of circumstance, because of life, because of how they came across in the time that I happened to know them.
But while that is to allow for a lot of chance, I can say I’ve always consciously tried to not prejudge, to not discriminate.
And what my experience teaches me is that being open-minded pays off. And as I try to explain below, it’s not a hard lesson to learn, whoever you are.
The key aspect you need to guard against is the fear that comes with meeting strangers. Yes, ‘fear’ is a strong word. And yes, it’s a variable – you might call it caution, or guardedness or whatever. But fear is a reasonable short-hand. And fear is part of the package of life – part of being human. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct. Whatever.
The problem is, fear feeds ignorance. It is easier to hide behind fear, to stay ignorant, than to overcome it. You, as a human, need a degree of bravery to overcome this natural fear, this comfortable ignorance. On the whole we like boundaries and barriers. They offer certainty. And fear-fed ignorance makes creating and keeping boundaries easier.
But like I said above, being open-minded pays off. To expand on that, and put a different perspective on it, I’d say you should learn to be sensibly selfish.
Instead of staying behind your barriers, think for a moment: what am I going to miss-out on if I’m discriminating against people – for any reason.
Stand back for a moment. Ask yourself, what do I like? Name something. Almost anything. Any aspect of life, of what you do, of what you enjoy. Anything you appreciate or value. You can be pretty sure that whatever you can think of relies on people.
There are all the people who work in what get categorised as support roles: all the care services, nurses, doctors, delivery people, the folks who pick up your rubbish.
Or alternatively, think about all the things we rely on happen because of huge numbers of people you don’t really see in day-to-day life. The specialists.
Or think of all the people you just come across day-to-day, just briefly. The ones that make you smile, perhaps broadly, perhaps fleetingly. The ones you just exchange a casual nod with.
Whatever your focus, think about all the things in your life and all the people that are needed to make them happen. All those people make your life just a little bit richer, a little bit better, a little bit easier. When you think about it, it’s obvious that all aspects of your life need people.
And what you and everyone else needs to remember is that the greater the variety of people in your life, so the richer your life is.
I’ve said it already. No, not everyone in your life will be ‘your type’. A few will be. Most will just be OK. And the bad ones will be very few. But they all combine to make how you live the way it is. Don’t discriminate! Embrace them all.
Yes, sometimes, stopping the bad few dominate your thoughts and indeed your life, either your life now or your life in the past, can be hard going. But you can turn even that into a ‘selfish’ gain: you’ll be winning in all regards if you prevent some grotty human getting in the way of you enjoying everything else.
And that’s what I’ve learned from everyone I’ve known.
* I’ve known people from:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Trinidad and Tobago
United States of America
Those are just the countries I’m aware of. There are bound to be more. And to be clear, I’ve tried to only list countries – places that are self-governing and have their own territory. But I know this whole subject is tricky – and fluid. No offence is intended.
Arguably … to be kept just as clearly in mind as actively not discriminating is the fact that propaganda corrupts to a huge scale, in numerous ways, sometimes obviously, sometimes very insidiously. And propaganda is the prime tool that enables fear, and on the basis of fear, hatred.