As we grow up, we are exposed to a myriad of different people, places, and things. Each one of these experiences goes into our memory bank and from there we formulate opinions on different subjects.
Within each family there are certain rules to be followed. As youngsters, we do not challenge these rules because they were told to us by people that we respect and love. As we grow up, and our minds expand, we may have tendencies to challenge some of these rules. Teenagers are a great example of this because they challenge everything from the way we look to the way we walk and talk.
Sometimes, based on our family’s values and beliefs, we make decisions based on false information. When I was a fairly young child, my mother told me that dogs will bite you if you get too close to them. Since it was my mother who told me this piece of information, I became frightened of dogs. This phobia lasted for approximately 4 years until my parents told me that this piece of information was not true. You see, my mother was bitten at an early age by a dog and since then was afraid to even be around them. Out of her fear, and because she wanted to protect me from possible harm, she instilled this information into me. This is a form of prejudice.
I can remember sitting down with my parents and having them discuss with me that what my mother felt about dogs should not be passed on to me. Following this discussion we visited one of my parent’s friends who had a new dog. This was my test. I was to go up to the dog and pet it. By doing so, I would be able to see that all dogs will not bite you. We got there and the dog was under a chair. I got down on all fours and crawled under the chair to pet the dog. Unbeknownst to me the dog was asleep and when I went to put my hand on her head she reacted by biting and clawing my face. As the blood started to spurt out of my face my parents were in total shock. I was rushed to the hospital where I had plastic surgery to repair my hanging lip and nose. To say the least, this experience did not end as my parents had hoped. Instead of lessening the fear I had of dogs it exacerbated them. This is an example of a prejudice based on reality.
The majority of prejudices are not based on reality but based on ignorance. Whether it be the color of somebody’s skin, the way somebody speaks, or the way somebody moves or acts.
My simple tip for living a happier and more enriching life is to look deep within yourself and find areas where you may be prejudice. Is this prejudice based on reality, like my former fear of dogs, or is it based on what people told us or maybe it is just ignorance.
The sooner we clean up our thinking and start expanding our mind to the possibility of getting to know people better the sooner we will become more understanding and more compassionate individuals.
Dr. Harris Cohen
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