This list focuses on some unsavory behaviors I’ve noticed are quite popular in many people today. No one is immune to them, but some people are able to see where their cognitive reasoning may need a double take before it’s too late.
Take a look, and have an honest think about whether you see yourself in any of these topics, because I was hoping that by describing these behaviors, others might be able to rethink how they behave. Even as I was writing this, I realized that I’m guilty of most of these things on both a small and large scale.
Prejudice and discrimination
We all would have heard these two words thrown around a lot. A prejudice is an unjustified attitude towards an individual based solely on their involvement in a particular group (gender, race, nationality, preferred sport, anything). Discrimination is when actions are based on prejudices.
For many, we naturally form prejudices based on past experiences as a quick way to categorize pleasant people from unpleasant people, and along the journey of human evolution, this would have been a good survival tool.
Nowadays however, this old survival strategy has been problematic for some peoples thought processes. For example: After the 9/11 catastrophe in the U.S.A, many people developed a prejudice towards anyone who looked like they came from a middle-eastern country. These negative ideas of middle-eastern people, and especially of Muslims, were created when people associated the middle-east with terrorism. Somehow people thought that because a relatively small group of dangerous people were from this area of the world, that therefore ANYONE from there must be dangerous. (You might describe this as ignorance bred by fear)
It’s generalizations like this one which lead people to completely misunderstand the reality they are in. Next thing you know, every Muslim entering the US is getting “randomly selected” for security checks at the border. People who aren’t even Muslim or from the middle-east are getting harassed and beaten in streets just for looking like they are. Many people discriminated against a group of people simply because they generalized everything into an oversimplified category of Middle-Eastern = Dangerous.
Just think about what prejudices you may hold. Are all Asians really that good at math? Or bad at driving? Are all lower-class people uneducated, or are all upper-class people overly posh? The answer is probably not, but if you have arrived at a similar conclusion about any group of people, keep in mind that you haven’t met them all and you are only collecting your information from a very, very small sample of individuals.
The important thing here is to realize that you do not have all the information when trying to understand the world, so don’t assume things and don’t pretend like you know it all.
Social Identity Theory
Social identity theory describes how people’s sources of pride, self-esteem and personal identity generally come from the social groups to which they belong. Of course its healthy to be a part of a community and to socialize, however this can also be a huge flaw in many people when taken too far.
There are some who feel they need to heighten their own self-image by “talking up” their associated group. You may have heard this before:
“MY LOCAL SPORTS TEAM IS BETTER THEN THE NEXT TOWNS SPORTS TEAM BECAUSE IT’S MY SPORTS TEAM, ANYONE WHO DISAGREES IS WRONG”.
A mundane example, I know, however even this type of mentality becomes violent. I have seen a group of “sporting enthusiasts” savagely put a man in hospital because he was wearing the wrong sporting jacket. So fucking what if he supported the Lakers and they supported the Celtics.
As well as improving ones self-image by promoting the group an individual identifies with (called the in-group), its also possible for individuals to improve their self-image and self-esteem by discriminating against other groups (or out-groups), like in the case of extreme patriotism or racism. For example:
AMERICA IS THE BEST! GET OUT OF OUR COUNTRY YOU DIRTY, LAZY FOREIGNERS!!
In this case, the in-group is not only trying to insult an individual who he holds a prejudice against and therefore actually knows nothing about, but is also trying to bolster their own self-esteem by making it seem like America is too good a place for these individuals, and wasn’t already dirty before they arrived.
This model resembles the mentality of the schoolyard bully with self-esteem issues, who feels it necessary to discriminate and denigrate others in order to feel confident about themselves. How strange is it that some adults also behave this way?
Your self-esteem and identity need not be based on anything external, whether its your religion, nationality, sporting team, or anything else. Your identity as a person comes only from you, so please don’t get sucked into the group mentality because that can soon change into the mob mentality and before you know it; everything becomes about “us versus them” (we can call this confrontationality) instead of it being about “all of us, together”.
Self-Serving Attributions and Attribution Theory
We all want to know how and why things happen around us don’t we? Attribution theory considers how we as humans try to determine the reasons for the actions of other people based on our existing understanding of them. This behavior is a natural function of our social brains and as such doesn’t always follow logical analysis, leading to people sometimes arriving at unrealistic or out-of-touch conclusions. Our attributions tend to be based on our own emotions, motivations and even prejudices, giving a tendency for them to be self-serving to our own ideas of the world.
For example: A man who exercises every day and has a good physique, one that he is proud of, sees a heavily overweight woman walking down the street. He may wonder how she became so big, imagining that she is lazy and makes poor health decisions when the reality is that she has a debilitating health problem that prevents her from doing proper exercise. The man didn’t know this of course, but based on his idea of “if you work hard you can get fit”, she isn’t fit because she doesn’t work hard. He has not only incorrectly described her situation, but also found what he believes is “evidence” that his belief is correct.
Now think of how many people shun the homeless and call them “lazy”, “useless” or “stupid”. I’ve met many homeless people who were the opposite of these words, who lost everything due to a series of unfortunate events. Describing a homeless person as useless and lazy without even knowing who they are is an example of a self-serving attribution. Perhaps you don’t want to acknowledge that hard work and determination sometimes isn’t enough to succeed in life, and that it be you in their position one day.
Attribution theory leads on to cognitive dissonance which applies to many arguments where someone may appear to be “closed minded”. Cognitive dissonance refers to when someone is exposed to an idea which is in conflict with one of their own and makes them uncomfortable, forcing them to change a belief, attitude or behavior in order for these ideas to not conflict with each other.
We humans have a preference of keeping the beliefs we hold in harmony and not holding two contradictory ideas at the same time, sometimes leading to “closed-mindedness”. Someone considered “closed minded” usually changes their behavior to defensive mode in order to avoid changing a belief they hold. By fighting the conflicting idea and avoiding internalizing it (sometimes regardless of evidence given), they maintain harmony in their own belief system, returning to a comfort zone.
Take the gay marriage debate for example:
Many religious groups opposed allowing homosexuals the same rights as heterosexual couples because such an act would disagree with their own ideas. Since the religious groups view themselves as “righteous followers of god”, and were taught that homosexuals were “evil sinners”, “lust-driven”, or “unholy”, to admit to any kind of equality between the two would require a change in their religious world views which is a lot more difficult than just fighting the conflicting idea.
Of course, evidence suggests that a gay couple will want to get married out of LOVE, not from some evil demonic lust.
By disagreeing with this idea and condemning it, the opposing group refuse to consider an idea which might compromise their own beliefs, changing their attitude to a heightened state of aggression rather than lose the harmony they hold in their beliefs.
The human fault here is not wanting to be wrong about something. It is much easier to imagine false evidence that proves your initial views than to accept you are wrong and change how you see the world. We like to think that we know how the world works, and for some of us it’s just too scary admitting that we don’t.
In order to practice avoiding these behaviors, one must be flexible with their mind and belief, ready to accept the truth should they be proven wrong. They should try not to describe another persons problems or situation without first getting to know the other person. Don’t follow the herd like a sheep and rely on being part of a group for your personal identity and self-esteem, and don’t assume that everyone from a specific group are all the same whether they be men, women, French or German.
Written by: Matt Bowden