Opinion: The plague of prejudice…

Faith in Waipā

By Murray Smith, senior leader, Bridges Church

In this climate of awareness concerning pandemic spread, I’ve been considering how another pandemic is manifesting in our society. In certain respects ‘prejudice’ also is an insidious disease – virulent and contaminating, with many strains causing isolation, division and social distancing.

Racial prejudice identified as abhorrent, joins a plethora of other expressions of prejudice creating barriers between age, gender, rich, middle class and poor, educated, uneducated, popular, unpopular; you get the picture.

The fact is we are all different from one another and learning to accept and appreciate people for who they are, without any prejudice on the basis of race, creed, ability or disability, or station in life is essential in ridding ourselves of the toxicity of prejudice.

Basically, we feel safest among those we’re familiar with. Being of different backgrounds and cultures pre-disposes some to judge and stereotype others. The antidote lies in respectfully valuing one another’s unique personhood.

The inclination crouches at the door to look down our noses at the homeless on the street without knowing anything of their story and yet admire a well dressed business person – to show favour to people we perceive to have it all together yet inwardly recoil from the disadvantaged, unattractive, or whatever. It’s terrible for any reason… to regard one person of more importance than anyone else on the basis of appearance or ‘reputation’.

I read about a woman in a store asking to use the bathroom. An attendant helpfully obliged. This woman was part Maori but that wasn’t obvious. When her mother, clearly Maori also wanted to use the bathroom, she was told public toilets were down the street.

You may remember a TV Show consisting of bosses of large companies disguising themselves in order to work among their staff.

It was a purposeful exercise for these undercover employers – not to entrap staff but to achieve an ‘on the ground’ take on how things were really going at grass-roots level without veneer. Posing as being just another employee recently joining to learn the ropes, these bosses were able to observe behaviours at the coal face. It exposed workers with difficult attitudes but also revealed reliable and faithful workers. People committed to the goals which the boss had for his company were often handsomely rewarded later when the boss divulged his true identity!

The point in these situations was that people who were rewarded were ones who treated everyone the same – even-handedly, kindly and who unconditionally accepted the ‘stranger’ completely unaware this person was actually their boss.

Some confronting words in the Bible (James 2) challenge the ‘prejudice’ issue bluntly.

“Suppose someone comes among you dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewellery, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”— such favouring of one over another is wrong!”

To summarise – never look down on anyone unless you are giving them a hand up.

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