Thursday, February 9, 2012

Filling in where awareness campaigns leave off...

       When I was at Mass(Catholic) last weekend, I couldn't help but to notice the prayer intentions. Usually in the middle of the Mass, the part when I tend to daydream the most, is a part where the priest reads off a few special intentions. Usually it's the names of a few ill or deceased parishioners and maybe world peace or something like that. One of them last weekend was to defeat the demons of prejudice and misunderstanding. That's not an unusual intention but I couldn't help but to notice the "and misunderstanding" part.
       Like many other things, prejudice has many causes and it would be dangerous to oversimplify everything into one cause. (Although the Catholic Church seems to narrow down the causes of evil in general into the Devil, the world, and the flesh.) Many Eastern and New Age traditions narrow everything down into "the ego" which can easily fit somewhere into the categories outlined in Catholic Theology. More on the "ego" later.
       Misunderstanding I feel, is one of the biggest causes of hate, fear, prejudice, and of individuals not getting along (especially among otherwise decent people). Many times two decent people agree that we should care for the poor, yet they differ only on the means to the end, leading to both sides thinking the other side is selfish. There are also too many other ways people can misunderstand each other on both an interpersonal or cultural level.
       Education and awareness is one of the biggest ways to eliminate misunderstanding. It's a never ending process. An example would be how we may never totally understand Autism though we can keep making progress. In the mean time there are countless other differences and issues that we have yet to understand. One side effect of "Awareness" is that educated people could end up thinking they have an understanding of others and making false assumptions based thinking that they are now "enlightened". Human awareness has it's limitations, but there is a way to fill in the gap. That would be humility. Not only does humility leave an empty space for truth to enter when it's ready, but it can also be liberating. While "awareness" can help us become more fair in our judgments of others (though only God is perfectly fair), humility and the magic of "I don't know." can liberate us further by having us leave the "judging" to a higher power. Humility can help us live with misunderstanding peacefully. There are a lot of mental conditions that we may not understand for generations to come and therefore it would be hard to know if something we observe in another person is a character fault, a result of their pathology, or a little of both. We might as well just stop guessing. Also, as a lifelong Westerner I may never understand everything about the culture of Sri Lanka (so far I have only met one person that I know of from that island). Yet I can still get along with a member of that culture by just accepting that there may be nuances in each-other's culture and language that neither of us fully understand.
       It is widely known that education is important for eliminating ignorance and misunderstandings, but there are caveats. Sometimes the best understanding and acceptance can come from the "ignorant" (a small child, a pet, or a person who is intellectually or educationally challenged, or even "Forrest Gump"). They may know little about cultural diversity, Autism Awareness, ADD, LGBT... issues, Agoraphobia, Schizophrenia, minority religions, or gender issues, yet they seem to accept almost anyone unless they have a serious reason not to. Ignorance is a weakness but not necessarily a fault but arrogance is always a fault. As for the ego, I feel that it causes not so much the misunderstandings, but it causes people to frown on what they don't understand.
       (I don't BTW imply that every time we get a bad vibe from another person or witness someone doing wrong that it's a misunderstanding, unfounded, and that there is no such thing as evil- there certainly is. God of course will take care of things and is the only One with enough information to make a truly fair judgment. It's just that there are many times when what we see as a difference is actually a misperception and people end up seeing their friends as enemies.)
       Below is another article I found online on misunderstanding:

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