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[Photo: prejudices by qvark]

I take public transportation to and from work each day. In particular, I take a train that runs from Chicago's Midway Airport to downtown. On the way home today, there was a man on the train who was clearly on his way to the airport. He brought attention to himself because was lugging a pretty big load: a laptop computer case, a medium sized piece of rolling luggage and an odd looking thermos-like container. Normally, I don't pay much attention to people toting all this stuff, as the train's destination is the airport. However, this person was different than the traveller I see on a day-to-day basis.

He wasn't caucasian. He wasn't African American. He wasn't Hispanic. He appeared to have been Arab. And he was wearing a turban. His nationality, coupled with his baggage, descended on my conscience in a flurry of apprehension and nervousness. A number of disturbing questions ran through my mind. Does he have a bomb? Is he going to blow up the train? Does he have liquid explosives in his thermos-like container? He was sitting very close to me. Should I change my seat?

Once I realized how ridiculous my thoughts were, my fear turned to shame. I was ashamed because this wasn't the first time that I jumped to similar snap judgements about how a stranger might affect my safety. How could I allow myself to buy into all the preconcieved notions and stereotypes created by current world events? How could I allow myself to make such harmful assumptions about someone when the probability of them being true are miniscule?

The government always tells us to be watchful and vigilant. To be aware of things that seem out of the ordinary. But how can we do this without allowing ourselves to be victims of preconcieved notions and prejudices? How can we be proactive in preventing potential disastrous events without making assumptions about the character and nature of the strangers we come in contact with?

I think we are teetering on the edge of a slippery slope. With the probablility steadily increasing that smaller scale terrorist attacks will begin to take place on our own soil, we are flirting with another type of disaster as well. Is our society strong enough to ward off acceptance of additional reasons to fear our neighbors because they have a different skin color, wear non-western clothing, have different religious beliefs? History suggests not. The potential of becoming even more divided, nationally and globally, is very real, despite all our advanced technology and weapons.

I am embarassed to even publish this post. The thoughts and feelings I expressed go against everything that I like to tell myself that I am about. But I must acknowledge them because they are real for me. I know they stem from a fear of the unknown and intangible. And I don't think it is a stretch to assume that many others feel similarly. Have you had similar experiences?

How can we be vigilant, but yet accepting and objective? How do we keep ourselves from reacting out of fear when we are facing such a formidable foe? How do we accept that we must let events that are out of our control unfold organically?

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Mindfulness. That's how to combat this. Mindfulness tells you that when you feel something, you acknowledge it, not repress it or deny it. You acknowledge that, despite its unpleasant aftertaste, you have this feeling.

If your feeling is difficult to deal with, maybe you transform it first. Then once transformed, you look deeply into that feeling. That feeling, "What is it?" Truly, what is it? You could ask yourself, "Why? Why do I have this feeling?" But that's the long scenic route, and really doesn't get at the heart of the matter. You can know why and still not be able to deal with the feeling. Instead, use mindfulness to lead you DIRECTLY INTO the feeling. What is this feeling? "It's a feeling." No, that's just a label. What is it? "It's something I think." What is this 'something?' Meditating like this will lead you to the heart of the feeling, its true nature, its impermanence, its "how." The "why" is irrelevant. It's the "how" that you care about.

That's how Buddhism, which you can consider as 2,500 years of psychological investigation and development, would approach this issue.

Be mindful that you're making decisions for yourself, not letting the media decide who is worthy of your fear.

or hate.

Mike & genderist: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter!

About twice a week my aunt forwards to me (plus 30 other people) emails that seem very angry, prejudiced, full of hate. The latest had the Subject: "The Truth Must Be Told".

Here is a section of that letter:
"And under the pretense of tolerance, and because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were
cured of the disease of racism, we opened our gates to 20 million Muslims, who brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride.

They have turned our beautiful Spanish cities into the third world, drowning in filth and crime.

Shut up in the apartments they receive free from the government, they plan the murder and destruction of their naive hosts.

I read the emails she has sent and wonder what our country will become when ordinary citizens intentionally poison their minds with hatred and fear.

Oh genderist, how I love to see you agree with me. Personally, I think the media and their "shock video" pumps second after second of fear based media into the collective concious. Why is it always, murder, stabbings, shootings, etc. that is reported. Why is not this boy winning this in school, or that girl winning that in that school. What makes hate and violence so attractive to the masses.

Day in and day out I see people of different races and ethnicities continue to show their own preducies for others to wonder whether or not people can trust them. Let's look at Angela's story. Muslim extremists are taught and told to blend into society and then do whatever their mission is. "Sleeper cells." It is not her fault for feeling uncomfortable, nor should she feel ashamed. These Arab fundamentalisits have proven time and time again that they blend in and you don't know who to trust.

One quick example to ponder. In 2002 or 2003 my best friend and his ex-wife were waiting to board a plane for Arizona. While sitting and waiting to board they saw a Middle Eastern man sitting all by himself with just the Koran and no luggage. My friend told me he was nervous and could not sit still before getting on the plane. After a final random security check (in which his name was called) everyone boarded the plane. Once they got to altitiude speed and the seat belt sign went off, this guy immediately went to the bathroom. This prompted my friend to undo his seat belt and wait to take action, if needed. Others did so as well. When he came back from the bathroom, there was no incident. He may have been nervous from the start because we were still fresh off of 9/11 and he probably thought everyone was looking at him as a potential threat. He showed signs (nervousness, no luggage, etc.) of potential threat to those on board.

There are incidents were those who preceive, may have to for personal protection. Those who admit they are a threat and show their prejudice need to be observed. I'm not saying either is bad or good on both parties, but you can't deny this rampant in today's society. Once those who stop promoting hate, blame others for their problems and resent everyone, will we start to live in a peaceful society.

Marilee: Reading the quote from your email gave me chills. I still can't believe that there are people who are so closed minded and narrow sighted in the world today, despite all the exposure we have to people and cultures different from our won.

Your final comment is exactly the point I was trying to make in my post. We have so many old issues and causes of prejudices which already divide us that I am concerned how new issues (immigration, terrorism, etc.) will affect our societal attitudes. I am afraid to even imagine what will happen if the breaking point is reached...

Tony, thanks for your comments. You address many important issues and make some good points.

In particular, I like that your story about your friend's experience highlighted the fact that more often than not, people who are perceived as "bad" or a "threat" due to pre-concieved notions or prejudices are the same as the people that fear them in the most basic of senses. No matter our skin color or religion, we all experience the same base set of emotions. We all want to live a happy, healthy life, and we all wish the same for our children and family. I think if we can learn to focus more on how we are the same as others, rahter than how we are different, a more acceting atmosphere can be created.

The thing that I find the most scary, and the most sad, is that you had no idea what your fate would be that day on the train...

I thought a lot about this in the days following sept11... thinking about the people that boarded those planes in Boston. Had they seen Atta and his pals, waiting to board their flight? Were they afraid to fly with these guys, simply because of their ethnicity? Did they have the exact same self-discussion before finally chuckling it off as their own insecurity/prejudice, angry at themselves for allowing society to have influenced their fears? Did they turn the other cheek?

There's such a strange line between compassion, observation, judgement, discrimination, prejudice, etc..

The people that day that might've chosen to wait until the next flight (with a chance at no one of "questionable" ethnicity) would've been scoffed at, by most. Yet, they'd be alive. Those that were accepting, blindly so, have passed on now.

Your train could well have exploded, devastating everyone's lives onboard, and ours as well with your loss.. (fear not, I'll just keep guest-posting! Bold Contemplations will survive!) Your thoughts, emotions, instincts(?), could have been dead(eek)-on accurate. And through action, you might even have been able to prevent it if you took steps to remove the danger from the train.

Only.. you might've removed the wrong person, because it seems the lady sitting on the other side of you is the one with the bomb, and while all the panic/focus is on this guy, no one even glanced at her fidgeting/nervousness..

To me, the truth of the matter is.. our ideas and emotions won't (and really shouldn't) prevent things like this from happening. Our observations have a marginal shot at helping us prevent them, but they are SO often wrong, that all we'd end up doing is creating the very problem we're worried about. Tony's story about the guy waiting to board a plane is perfect.. Wouldn't you be nervous, waiting to get on a plane with 167 passengers that -all- think you're up to no good? Nervous that if you spend an extra minute too long in the lav. that the entire plane is waiting, seatbelts unfastened, prepared to kill you, if they believe it necessary? Would it make you hate our fear? And hate us by proxy? Maybe not if it was one occasion.. but if it was like that in every single public place you ever passed through?

I cannot in my wildest imagination guess what a typical day is like for the man you saw on the train. I don't imagine it's any different than the typical day the terrorists from sept11 experienced while they were here. (apart from the meetings/planning of mass killings, and such.)

I think the hate is pushed... solidified, by -ALL- sides in the stories we choose to tell (or mass-forward through email). We aren't innocent here... Our actions oversees are simply -not- pure, and ridiculously disrepectful/criminal in some cases... things that only fuel future hate towards us (which fuels our retaliation, and then theirs..)

I really don't know that there's an answer here that either side can implement on its own. Even if we could somehow change the emotion/opinion of every soul in the United States... to be accepting of others, etc.. It doesn't mean our enemies won't strike. Folks would fairly easily presume that it'd be the -best- time to, in fact.

And on the other side, if we could somehow change the emotion/opinion of every soul in the middle east.. to be accepting of the type of peace we're trying to "install" there.. it doesn't mean that our democracy and capitalism would promise to stay away. Folks would easily presume that it'd be the easiest time for it to seep in, as well.

The two don't jive together. The missions, and the goals of each don't actually work in a peaceful setting, since each's definition of peace demands the other not be present.

There's no such thing as just "allowing everyone" to believe in their thing, if it turns out that one side's belief is that the other should be vanquished away. :)

Anyway. This is another topic altogether, at this point. :)

I'll still ride the train tonight, for what it's worth. :)

Loki, thanks for your post. You raise some good points. I'll post a longer response later (out of time for now), but a quick comment I have is the following:

Do yout think on Sept. 11 anyone in US airports would have suspected that those of Arab descent were a threat? Was that prejudice/preconceived notion valid in this country prior to Sept. 11? Or is it new, as a result of Sept. 11? Yes, I am sure there were people who may have had negative notions about those of Arab descent, but were these people considered to be a threat to personal saftey?

And, as you touched on, soon we will not be able to recognize who the enemy is. How often do you hear that al Quaeda and the like are recruiting people who are Western to carry out these attacks? Plus consider our home grown terrorists, McVey and the like.

More later...

I'd just like to ask if any of the people condemning Marilee's supposedly bigoted aunt actually live in Spain in any of the places described. If not, how on earth do you know whether she is expressing a 'bigoted' view or whether or not she is indeed telling the absolute truth?

Bigoted is hanging women for being raped. Bigoted is hanging homosexuals for being homosexuals. Bigoted is wanting to kill Jews because they are Jews, the 'descendants of apes and pigs'. Bigoted is believing that those who do not follow your religion are 'infidels' and less than human. Bigoted is the belief in the rightness of the idea of 'honour killing'.

All of this bigotry and more is believed in wholeheartedly by the people Marilee's aunt is talking about. Where is your self-righteous condemnation for that?


"Bigoted" was your word, not mine. I said her comments were "angry, prejudiced, full of hate." I still believe those words describe the emails which my aunt sends me.

I do not live in Spain, so she could indeed be telling "the absolute truth", while I remain ignorantly safe in my isolated little world of going to work most days and cleaning the house on weekends -- while thousands, millions, suffer far away from me.

But I don't think it would help those who suffer by filling my head and heart with anger and hate. However, if it were me doing the actual suffering, I am sure I would be doing far louder "self-righteous condemnation."

I do not feel that I make judgements about people by their appearance. Once in awhile I do catch myself making a generalization about someone on whether they are: fat, skinny, bald, old, ugly, beautiful, even about the car they drive or about the house in which they live. I do not view this as a prejudice but as a thinking disease engrained into me by society. I know that we all think like this and it is bad only if we do not catch ourselves from this stinking thinking.
Now, as for seeing someone who looks like one of the many who have been responsible for all the terror acts, I think that we are justified in thinking that we should be aware if someone crosses our path who might seem as though he or she might pose a threat. After all 99% of all terrorists are the same nationality, so to speak. It is another issue if our feelings to turn to animosity. It is worse to hate than to be cautious.

dangerouslysubversivedad, as Marilee noted, no one described her aunt's comments as bigoted. However, given your explanation of bigoted, it would seem to me that you could describe the comments in that manner. Based on your comments, it appears that you belive that a bigot is one who makes generalizations about people's natures based on them belonging to a specific classification -- race, sex,creed, etc. This appeared to have been excatly what Marilee's aunt was doing -- grouping 20 million Muslims into a single category. I am not denying that I do not understand the poor living conditions in the areas described in the email, nor do I deny that the conditions could potentially be horrible. While some Muslims may live in the area, I doubt that the blame for the poor conditions can be placed on a group of people simply because they are Musllim. Her aunt's comments seem to imply that one would find deplorable living conditions anywhere that people of the Muslim faith live, which is obviously an untrue and ridiculous claim.

Loki, first-off, thanks for killing me off, and even greater thanks for promising to keep Bold Contemplations going after I am gone!

I agree that the solution to the problem is not simply perpetuating an accepting attitude throughout our country. The issue obviously runs much, much deeper and needs to be dealt with at its roots. I believe the base issue is one of religion, and our current struggle with Muslim fundamentalists is no different than the numerous religious battles which have occurred throughout history. Our enemy is extremely dangerous because they truly believe that what they are doing is right and justified in their god's eyes. They are not afraid to die for their cause and believe they will be rewarded in the after-life for causing our demise! How can we battle those types of beliefs and attitudes? It surely cannot be done with guns and bombs.

Although most people would argue that tradional organized religion is divinely inspired, I think current world events tend to indicate that this may not be the case, and may in fact poison our minds and motivations to a degree....

This is actually a good lead-in for me to mention that at the end of this week I will be a guest blogger for Unknowing Mind. The topic I will be posting about is, "How do you feel about religious diversity? Is diversity important, or would a single, or no, religion be more beneficial for our world today?" The questions will also be tackled from the christian and pagan perspectives. I'll post a reminder to check the discussion out once the posts are published!

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