A quote from a recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog started me thinking, but probably not in the direction that Jack had in mind when he posted it – “Anyone can buy new things, but only a strong person can throw old things out.” (Unknown)
What this little saying keyed off in my mind was the thought that to takes a strong person to discard old traditions or commitments, old knowledge and wisdom and old preconceived notions and prejudices and move on to embrace new things, new thoughts, new understandings and new relationships.
Jack mentioned looking for something that he must have inadvertently discarded in his post. I think that sometimes we also inadvertently accumulate things like fears or prejudices. Maybe it was something that we were told as a child by our parents about “those kinds of people”, or perhaps we saw something on the news about one bad actor from a particular group and we generalized it to cover the entire group. No matter how or when this “knowledge” was accumulated, it now serves only as bad mental baggage that needs to be reexamined and discarded.
It would be hypocritical of me not to admit that I, too, have some of those same reactions when I encounter people during the day. The difference, as I have grown older, is that I now stop myself and quickly try to reevaluate those feelings, BEFORE I take any action. I ask myself why. Why am I afraid of this person? Why do I find this person’s appearance to be alarming? Why am I immediately on the defensive with a person that I haven’t even met? So, I’m admitting that I haven’t been able to completely discard those old preconceived notions and prejudices, but I am at least able to recognize them as such and modify my behavior to give me the chance to prove them wrong once again. The reward has been meeting and getting to know some really great people that I otherwise might have avoided.
How often do you stop yourself when you are in the process of prejudging someone based upon their color or ethnicity or lifestyle and question why those thoughts jumped into your mind? In law-enforcement there is a concept called “probable cause”. In theory that means that the law enforcement officers have to have some justifiable reason for taking action against someone – searching or arresting them – a probable cause for their actions. There has been much made of the appearance that some in law enforcement have acted without any justification and stopped some minorities for such causes as “driving while black”. Perhaps we have all been guilty of such thoughts, if not such actions.
The key to not letting your past, and the mental baggage of prejudices that you’ve accumulated, rule your future is that little pause to consider the “why” of your immediate reaction. If you can do that, you can take the next step of examining the situation for any probable cause for that reaction. Most of the time there is no probable cause to be afraid or to immediately dislike someone, just because of his or her appearance; and, after all, that is all that you have to go on initially. Give the other person (and yourself) the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to be themselves. Be strong and throw out your old thoughts and welcome new people into your life. You might be pleasantly surprised at what great people are out there, just beyond your prejudices and fears.
Have a strong week ahead and don’t forget to stop and ask yourself – Why?