Moving Beyond Prejudices by Jorge Waxemberg

During the course of my life I have formed a view of things, of others and myself. Since this view is so familiar, it seems to me to be the most logical and sensible one, as well as the only correct one. I recognize that my "prejudices" are the preconceived ideas I might have about other people—those who seem different from me, strange or odd. I do not realize that the attitude which gives rise to these fixed ideas about other people is the same one that creates prejudices in how I see myself and reality in general.

Just as my prejudices about other people hinder me from knowing them and having a harmonious relationship with them, prejudices also block my development and do not allow me to broaden my vision of life and the world. I have a prejudice whenever I mistake my opinion for the truth. I easily notice other people's prejudices but find it painful to accept that I too have prejudices. I see prejudices in others all the time but am unpleasantly surprised when someone points out my prejudices to me. I am used to thinking that my opinions reflect the truth and not a position I have taken in favor of or against someone or something. In fact, I believe I have always made an effort to overcome my preferences so that I am able to maintain a view which is equable and just. However, though my mind tells me the world is diverse and that my way of being, feeling and thinking is only one among many, I cannot help reacting when I see persons who live and think differently from the way I do. It is almost as if I see in them a potential danger from which I must protect myself.

When I stop and think about the nature of prejudices, I find that I am not free of them, even though intellectually I accept the idea that all human beings deserve the same respect and have the freedom to choose their beliefs and lifestyles.

With regard to knowledge in general, my opinions are simply based on what I read, on conversations, on partial or sporadic experiences, on ideas which happen to be in vogue. I do not find it strange that, though my direct experiences are limited, my ideas are firm and solid. Perhaps this is because I feel I cannot live without the security of thinking that what I believe is just the way I believe it is—and so I imagine that what I believe, I in fact know. In short, I confuse my presumptions with knowledge, my opinions with sure judgments.

Certainly it would not be sensible to reject all judgment simply because the judgment can never be definitive, for I need a base in order to do something in life. But if I remain aware that my judgments are necessarily provisional, I can keep my mind open to new conceptions, I can learn continuously and keep my way of understanding and my opinions up to date. I see this process already going on around me—in the sciences, for example. It is remarkable to note how rapidly theories that were believed to be firmly established are continuously being displaced by new discoveries. In the social order, growing intercommunication and interdependence among peoples—their economies, their politics and even their ideologies—impels us to accept other cultures, other opinions, other traditions. A more exact knowledge gives a broader scope. As a consequence, antagonism changes to tolerance and tolerance leads to acceptance, harmony and integration.

If I wish to develop a capacity to learn continuously, I need to leave aside my prejudices about reality. If I want to unfold fully as a person, I have to transcend the prejudices I have about myself. It is not easy for me to accept that I have preconceptions about what I am. The very idea seems incredible to me: How can I have prejudices about myself? My most well-founded opinions are those which refer to my person—after all, who or what can I know better than myself? Nothing is closer to me nor more continuously with me than myself.

Incredible as it may seem, in fact, I do not know myself well. I do not have even the most simple knowledge of my way of being, reacting and expressing myself. I have proof of the limits of my self-knowledge regularly—for my family members, friends, doctors, teachers and acquaintances know me in a different way from the way I know myself. They know me in a way that is sometimes so different that I am convinced it doesn't correspond with what I really am—I think others don't understand me, that I am not the way they tell me I am. This is so much so that a good deal of the conflict in my relationships with others originates in the differences between the perceptions they have of me and those I have of myself. This increases my frustrations, making me feel misunderstood or unjustly treated.

My prejudices about what I can accomplish prevent me not only from seeing my shortcomings, but also from distinguishing my possibilities—perhaps the best ones. On how many occasions do my friends, parents or teachers try to persuade me to do something but then I fail to carry it out because I imagine I cannot do it? They see possibilities in me that I do not see in myself. It is a matter of accepting that others can see in me what I do not know how to see or am not capable of recognizing.

What it all comes down to is the fact that the knowledge I have of myself is partial and incomplete. Yet it is on this very foundation that I build firm ideas about how I am. My strengths, my shortcomings, my limitations, my abilities, and my prejudices about what I am prevent me from seeing all my possibilities.

The same thing frequently happens when new people arrive in a place. The new arrivals are not better or more capable than those who are already there. The difference is that they see in that place possibilities that those who live there do not. They can carry out something new because they believe they can do it. This also often occurs when a person imagines doing something different and decides to embark on an endeavor that others think is crazy or absurd. Such is the story of the great discoverers, those adventurers who crossed oceans, discovered lands, flew in newly invented aircraft and imagined it was possible to go out into space. What was different about them? It was that their imaginations went beyond the prejudices that were normal in their time and place; they believed something was possible which, in everyone else's eyes, was not.

I often think that my limitations are exterior, that other persons, the environment and circumstances are the obstacles which bar my unfolding. This might be true to a certain extent, but I am sure I will never be able to know my real possibilities until I look beyond the line drawn by my prejudices concerning what I am and what I can accomplish. This refers not only to my exterior accomplishments, such as the material things and the academic degrees I can acquire, but also to my spiritual life. Beyond what I believe I know about myself, beyond what others believe they know about me, there lies the inner space still unexplored by me. There lie the spiritual possibilities only I can discover inwardly, as long as I love spiritual freedom enough to transcend my own prejudices.

The yearning for spiritual liberation impels me to move wholeheartedly toward the Divine; thus, to the degree to which I unfold spiritually, I encounter the barriers which I myself placed—without realizing what I was doing—between my soul and the Divine. These limitations are fundamentally inner; they come from the way in which I see myself and interpret spiritual life, my unfolding and the realization I yearn to attain. To the degree to which I transcend these prejudices, my relationship with others unfolds, my vision of the world and of life expands as well as the way in which I understand myself. Above all, I deepen the way I understand both my spiritual life and my relationship with the Divine.