Reject Rigidity

Bigotry is perpetuated by rigidity.

Human beings are generally creatures of habit. By the time we reach adulthood, our personalities tend to be relatively fixed, and our lives are littered with small rituals that sustain and comfort us. Even people who crave change are often enacting a kind of repeated behavior by continually seeking new experiences. Some of us are less firmly ensconced in a sense of self or more open to novel ideas, while some of us embrace tradition no matter what.

Not all old things are bad, and not all new things are good, and vice versa. However, bigotry by its very definition relies on a stubborn unwillingness to discard prejudices, even if they are shown to be false. It also relies on segregating people into immutable groups, with firm labels that allow for little or no variation among group members.

Consider two politicians who hold opposing views on a particular issue. They are each passionate about this issue and defend their views relentlessly. Now, suppose that evidence surfaced to suggest that one of the views had more merit than the other, or that it had more logical support. Would it be wise for the politician espousing the less reasonable viewpoint to change his mind, or should he continue to advocate what appears to be incorrect? Will he lose the respect of his constituents if he appears to be going against the “party line”?

Too often, someone who changes his mind is labeled capricious, a flip-flopper, or lacking the courage of his convictions. Are there people who switch out opinions as often as they slip on new clothes? Absolutely. But to persist in believing and advocating something that is provably wrong isn’t brave or admirable, it’s foolish. Of course, proving something wrong isn’t always simple.

Embrace Flexibility

While not every question has a clear answer, we can arm ourselves with as much information as possible before forming our opinions, and be open to reevaluating them if new information becomes available. That means accepting when we are wrong, even if it makes us feel foolish for a little while.

We can encourage the same behavior in others by refraining from judgment when someone is willing to change his mind. It is much easier to avoid stubbornly defending a bad opinion if we aren’t subjected to the inevitable “I told you so” or similarly degrading comments.

It is important to understand that just because something has always been a certain way does not make that the best way or the right way. Traditions can be wonderful, pleasurable and life-affirming, but they can also be negative and destructive.

We must also continue to keep in mind that everyone is different. When we rigidly assign characteristics to members of certain groups, we are perpetuating prejudices. By keeping an open mind and avoiding labels, we are better able to see each person as they are rather than as a faceless representative of an imagined group. This leads to the final step in “occupying” bigotry: REJECT HATRED.

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