I live in a community (neighborhood, county, state,…) where closed-mindedness is the norm. I would say racism is the norm but the attitudes and fiercely-held beliefs are not limited to preferences in the shade of skin or ethnic group or even ancestry…although those are very strongly separated classifications.
People around here are deeply resistant to changing how they think but then so are people all over the world. If it is not what they grew up with, if it is not what they are familiar with, if he is not like me in (you name it: dialect, clothing style, vehicle type, licence plate, food preference,…) then it is wrong and therefore to be condemned, resisted, and (if possible) destroyed.
Two years ago, Lawrence Krauss, “Humanist of 2015,” was quoted as saying “Organized religion, wielding power over the community, is antithetical to the process of what modern democracy should define as liberty. The sooner we are without it, the better.” I won’t venture (right now) into all that is scary with that sentiment, but he demonstrates my point beautifully; Lawrence Krauss rejects everything about organized religion because it is not what he knows, is not what he is familiar with, and people who participate in organized religion don’t sound like the people he associates with…or him.
My own beloved college-educated, successful business-man brother threw out hundreds of dollars worth of organic food from my sister’s house because he “didn’t recognize any of it; I don’t eat that stuff.”
The short-cut suggestion to remedy this issue is ‘education.’ Doctors in hospitals all over the world struggle with patients’ refusals to follow prescribed improvements in diet and lifestyle and have thought the solution was education. Pamphlets and discharge instructions with pictures and pleas have done little. Helps and therapies seem to have no sizable impact. My next door neighbor was hospitalized for 10 weeks last year for complications from surgery. During this time he was given patches and drugs to help him withdraw from his addiction to smoking. He lived smoke free among others who were smoke free for several weeks and he even admitted he felt great off the cigarrettes. On the drive home he stopped and bought a carton and lit up before he got to the front door.
These people are not willing to face their fears of the unknown. “You sound wierd!” “I don’t eat that stuff!” “I don’t think my nerves could take it.”
Some fears are huge. “What if there is not enough to go around? Somebody has to go without. Why does it have to be me?” “If we let them have their way, they are going to take over!” “One day they are going to rise up and kill every white person they see!”
It’s fear. That’s all it is…fear. Fear of deprivation; fear of the unknown; fear of unbearable whatever. But it’s just fear.
So what’s the solution? How do you help people who have unreasonable fear? You must help them one person at a time. In the way a parent helps a child who is fearful of the monster under the bed, you show them over and over that there is nothing there to be afraid of. You show the person different from you that there is nothing for them to fear from you. You demonstrate that there is more for them from people like you than hate. You demonstrate that different is okay…and safe…and sometimes good.
I have two neighbors…brothers…who were both raised in this closed-minded community. One went into the Navy and worked beside people of a different color and national origin. His brother did not leave home and has never worked beside people different from himself. One is not fearful of people who are different; the other one is …but it looks like hate, not fear.
There are specific things we can do that help get through to people who have closed minds, fierce preferences, and fear. First, be gentle with them; they will not listen if you are forceful or you are yelling. Second, get to a point where you see things at their level …so that you can understand why they are fearful. Third, allow them to vent. Hold them in a safe environment so that they will be open to revealing what causes them to be fearful, (Sometimes, that’s all they need.) Their venting might be scary for you but you are the stronger one here. They need to know…to see proof…that the resolution is stronger than their fear. In other words, you need to love them.
If you have ever been a parent and you were faced with a child who cried out, “I HATE YOU!” then you know the dynamic I am describing: you allowed the child to cry out the unthinkable…and then you assured the child that everything between you was still okay; you still love the child ‘the whole thing…all of it…without end.’ (Yes, I’ve been there.)
One more suggestion: use words that are not usually used in these discussions. Avoid the cliches and button words; you know what they are.
This is how loving is done. This is how healing begins. This is the work of Jesus.
By the way, I commend Senator Tim Scott in the way he met with President Trump; Scott introduced Trump to himself….in all of the aspects with which Trump is unfamiliar and that is what is necessary for a change of thinking…
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