In this addition to our Diversity Diaries series we will be taking a look at fear and diving into its relationship with prejudice.
CHAPTER THREE: THE FEARFUL FOOL
Lack of understanding, ignorance and a refusal to learn about diverse groups and cultures can breed prejudice. If you don’t understand something it can incite fear and in turn that fear can lead to negative discrimination. There is no place for this in the modern working world and I must tell you, there is also no excuse for it.
With the speedy advancement of technology and specifically, the internet, the information is out there and ignorance can no longer be a justification for prejudice. Saying ‘I didn’t know’ is OK if you’re willing to find out, but leaving that thought there and dismissing a topic because you don’t understand it is what the fearful fool does, and the fearful fool can be dangerous. If you think about it, when it comes to committing a crime, ignorance is no defence in a court of law, so why do people use it as an excuse for prejudice?
Our title today relates to those who have stopped learning and conceitedly think they know all there is to know. Nowadays we have access to an inexhaustible amount of information and it is the duty of all of us to use this information to widen knowledge and eradicate that classic issue; fear of the unknown.
In a business context, fear can cause negative behaviours. But in the modern world, understanding can be gained by being open to knowledge and knowing that there are many things you simply don’t know – yet.
It has been said that the more you know, the more you know that you know nothing. That is a humbling approach and one that will encourage more learning and further understanding which can heal undeserved prejudice.
To be ignorant is not a flaw if you are aware that you are. It can be a strength to admit ignorance and it can propel you to gather up further knowledge.
We all naturally discriminate. Discrimination is really just recognising difference, but it’s when that recognition of difference becomes prejudice that we must be aware of and work together to dissipate.
Right now, the world is an alarming place, with prejudice and ignorance all around us, but there is also good work being done to tackle this and it is down to us all as individuals to refuse to accept prejudiced behaviours, micro aggressions and negative discrimination, at home and at work.
But what is fear? And why are we still living in a world where we are afraid of difference and frightful of each other and the unknown? Of course, I’m not talking about being afraid of a lion chasing us, that is a justified fear, but rather in a human context. Here we are discussing, for example, fear of a religion we don’t fully understand, or a culture we believe different to our own. The dictionary definition of fear is ‘an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm’. Why do some people automatically feel that if they don’t understand something it is threatening?
I think if you really look into other cultures, religions and ways of thinking you might find that underneath the different practises and habits of other groups we are actually all coming from the same place. We are human. We share an emotional scale, most of us; we won’t look at psychopaths here as their emotional scale may be different, but instead look at general human instincts. To survive, and ultimately to keep the human race going. This is a shared instinct and a fundamental part of being human. We may think differently, view the world differently and hold different values but, in the end, we are built with the predisposition to live and I believe we all want to be accepted for who we are.
If we learn to understand our similarities instead of focusing, and being afraid of, the differences we don’t understand, we can develop a level of compassion and empathy toward each other, instead of coming from a place of fear. Recognising our similarities and what we share as humans might just lead to the realisation that we’re all in this together. Black, white, young, old, male, female – we are human.
At the same time, recognising difference can also be a strength if the recognition is not attached to negative connotations or prejudice. To learn about yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses can help you develop as a person and lead to the realisation that there are people out there that can supplement your skills. You don’t always have to conquer your weaknesses when it comes to your skillset if you are not driven to. Of course, personal and professional development should always be encouraged but, rather than struggle in an area you are not passionate about, you could look to find the strengths you lack in another and work together – we are stronger together.
Recognising that someone else is better at maths than you, and you are better at English than them, makes neither one more valuable but rather both valuable in different contexts. The world needs both mathematicians and writers. If you’re no good at maths, I’m certainly not, then unless you have a desire to develop these skills, you can benefit from these strengths in others. Find someone else who does have an affinity for numbers and work with them. Offering skills to each other and working together makes that relationship incredibly valuable. Thereby leading to a beneficial result of recognising difference. Working with someone completely different to yourself can enrich your working, and personal, experience, and lead to a positive attitude toward difference rather than a negative one.
A certain amount of personal development is required to reap the true benefits of working with people different to you. Learning what makes you different and where your skills and strengths lie makes you a valuable asset to people that don’t have those skills. The more you learn about yourself and the more you learn to appreciate your strengths the better place you’ll be in to learn to understand and appreciate others. We are complex beings with an entire universe of different experiences and skills projecting from each person. To say we are the same as each other, although we discussed recognising similarities, is to reject our powerful and positive difference. Yes, understand the similarities, but also appreciate the strengths that lie in difference.
We get back what we put out in life. If we treat people with kindness, they are likely to be kind back. If we are judgemental, we, in turn, are more likely to be judged. In short, my belief is that the less negatively discriminatory we are, the happier our lives will be. We will gain in growing close to people who are different to us and, with understanding and empathy, we can learn to appreciate them for who they are. None of us are perfect and revealing our vulnerabilities can actually help others feel more comfortable. Own up to the simple fact that we are all developing constantly and none of us ever reach perfection. Being empathic to others’ vulnerabilities and recognising that like us, they too have areas to work on, both professionally and personally, will stop all of us feeling inadequate. We must learn to accept ourselves and others.
It can be difficult to use our humanity in a business context. We have duties, responsibilities and a requirement to support ourselves. This pressure can make us self-concerned rather than collectively-concerned and make us feel like we are on our own with our problems. We all have problems and life is a challenge for every one of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, privileged or not, we all struggle sometimes. Life is a challenge and we must look to support each other through the challenges, offer our strengths and recognise our weaknesses to help each other.
Keep learning and don’t stomp over life or other people because you are a fearful fool. We’re in this together.