Ignorance and fear, the two pillars of bigotry, are powerful allies. Each supports the other. It worries me that ignorance seems to be on the increase as people are persuaded by “true believers” of every kind to value belief over thought.
Take the case of diversity. Diversity is all around us. It’s a natural part of this universe. Even the most bigoted can’t avoid or remove it, however hard they try. We don’t need to increase diversity; we need to block fruitless attempts to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Diversity is not a cause of prejudice or discrimination. People act in discriminatory and biased ways through ignorance, fear and low self-esteem. They seek validation of a sense of importance by imagining some superiority to others.
Bigoted people ignore the reality that there’s greater diversity within any grouping (men, women, black, white, gay, straight) than there is between these groupings. This rooted tendency to respond to uncertainty by imposing some personal security blanket on the world is what produces discrimination. What we can’t suppress, we fear.
Discrimination is totally illogical. You can’t show a rational reason to support it. Sadly, those who practice discrimination don’t use logic. They play on emotions, especially fear in the face of anything different.
They also praise belief above thought. Thought takes mental effort. It leaves you open to discovering you’re wrong about something. In contrast, belief is easy on the mind. You just do it. Belief says “this is the way it is,” regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
Thought is rational and (potentially) objective. Belief is emotional and always subjective. Thanks to an epidemic of sentimentality, emotions are “in.” They are “authentic.”
Sure, they’re authentic—provided they’re actually felt, not pretended for the sake of effect. But that doesn’t make what you feel true. Authentic means real, not correct. Lies are real. Ask anyone whose been tricked by a liar if the lies were real. Or the pain and loss they caused.
I’m constantly amazed at what people manage to believe. Still more amazing is the tenacity they show in clinging to those beliefs in the face of any evidence.
Knowledgeable people can be wrong—we’re all human and mistakes happen—but at least they have the chance to see where their errors exist and put things right. “True believers” cannot even admit the possibility of error. Once they do, their whole belief structure collapses.
The key to removing discrimination is the banishment of bigotry and fear. And the only way to do this is to remove ignorance wherever it’s found.
Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.
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