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Insidious Prejudices

By - Jan 19, 2015 - Category Practice - Print Print - Version française
insidious prejudices

This article was written by Scr, a regular contributor to the e-ostadelahi website. It gives an account of what ethical practice can be like for those who seek to progress on the path of perfection. The two everyday scenarios presented here help provide insight into our actions and thoughts. Whether we share the author’s conclusions or not, his approach is in our opinion worthy of interest; it is an introspective self-analysis that results in an awareness of one’s emotions—a stepping stone toward ethical readjustments of our thoughts and behaviour.

Scene 1

I was on the subway heading to work, as on any other day—a part of my daily routine that is on the whole not unpleasant. A couple of teenagers got on the train. They were a bit noisy but nothing to get alarmed about. They were obviously not from a posh neighborhood, quite the opposite. After an initial gut reaction of what I hate to admit was fear, I found myself overwhelmed with a feeling of contempt towards them. How did this happen? I am not a racist. I know we are all human beings made of the same substance, brought forth from the same source. Then what? How did these feelings sneak up on me?

The first factor was fear, then a reaction that could easily be attributed to the alpha male in me—I compared myself to them and then felt contempt, heightened by the prevailing prejudices against this youth in society and the media. Such prejudices have become so commonplace that they can contaminate you without you even noticing. Of course, on that morning, these kids’ behaviour was rather obnoxious. One of them set the volume so high on his cell phone that everyone in that car had to hear his music. Another bragged about being able to beat someone up… Could this justify the contempt I felt? Of course not. My contempt was a form of violence directed to those it targeted and was poison for my soul. What was I to do?

Maybe I should have started by mentally separating the actions and the persons, by remembering the inherent dignity of all human beings, the divine spark within each and every one of them. Then there was also context. Obviously listening to music on the subway can be disrupting, but it isn’t particularly threatening—teenagers will be teenagers. Bragging about being able to intimidate someone with threats of violence isn’t particularly nice either. But again, all it was, was a teenager showing off in front of his friends. As for my fear, it was not legitimate. There was no real danger. And even if there had been—I am in the hands of God. Generalisations are dangerous. These kids were like any others, like myself at their age. How could I forget so fast? And how many of these kids have admirable qualities that I could actually learn from?

Are we even aware of the pain we can inflict when we glance at someone with contempt? A friend once told me about an experience that marked him when he was young. He was hanging around a luxury department store with some friends, inadvertently upsetting the sales people. One of them called the manager who addressed the teenage boys with such contempt that my friend felt hurt and angry for years thereafter. The indignation he felt that day led him to commit a number of more or less serious offences for the next ten years.

Scene 2

This experience dates back to when I was a PhD student working on my thesis. I had started off feeling relatively at ease, but as years passed, due to pressure and stress, I had become more high strung and more inclined to negative emotions. I did my undergraduate studies at a state college, while others in my program went to ivy-league schools. One day, two fellow PhD students from one of those ivy-league universities, both younger than myself, were talking about their work. From what I heard they were referring to theoretical tools that I had never had the opportunity to use. A negative emotion not unlike jealousy or resentment crept over me. Because of their physical appearance and behavior I categorized them as “the arrogant ivy-league type”. The envious feeling toward their theoretical knowledge was silly because not having been exposed to these tools had in fact enabled me to develop a very different approach that proved also valuable. As to their being younger, well, good for them! We each have our own paths. My resentment toward the fact that they came from the best universities was plain nauseating. It was harmful both to me and to them. It may well have been the case that what I had picked up on was a sort of smugness that they had developed as a result of their training in such prestigious universities, but even so, who was I to judge them for it? They were God’s creatures just as I was, with the same inherent dignity, and they deserved my respect and kindness. My reaction to them was all the more reprehensible since they had always been friendly to me and certainly had many qualities. Following this incident, I made deliberate efforts to be kind to them, and was able to notice some positive effects.


The brief analysis of these two incidents from my everyday life has led me to become aware that prejudices—whether toward young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods, or toward privileged students from ivy-league colleges—can affect people with the best intentions; they can insidiously pry their way into our thoughts and feelings and negatively color the vision we have of the world and of people.

There are, however, ways to avoid these traps. For me, one was to remind myself that all human beings are created from the same source, that all have inherent dignity within them and deserve respect and kindness. Of course the idea is not to become naïvely optimistic about people. People’s actions can be harmful and are in that respect reprehensible. It is important to be able to recognise these actions as such without judging the person committing them. Indeed, it is not for us to judge as it is neither our role nor in our capacity. While certain groups of people might choose unethical codes it is still the actions and not the people that must be judged. Hasty generalizations must be avoided too, even as we are tempted to make them under the influence of our environment and our emotions. Finally, we know for a fact that different environments can favor the development of different faults or qualities. Well, this diversity of environments, which enables us to be confronted to a host of different scenarios and situations, is inseparable from the very process of moral and spiritual perfection!

Further readings :

Excursion in my deep conscious self Excursion in my deep conscious self

We live in our ego… well, I don’t know about you, but that is certainly true for myself. This became clear to me after I listened to—and reflected on—the distinction between surface conscious self and deep conscious self as it is presented by Bahram Elahi… [read more]

Finding the cause within

“The cause of everything that happens to you is in you; you should therefore look within yourself to find the cause.” My reading of this maxim by Ostad Elahi triggered a number of thoughts that I would like to share by way of this article. A hearty thanks to e-ostadelahi.com for the opportunity to share with their readers. [read more]

Shifting perspectives Shifting perspective

The present book may be likened to a Zen anecdote: the real problem lies not in your life, but in the way you perceive it. Just change your point of view. Of course, that is much easier said than done, for the majority of our troubles stem from the fact that we have not yet learned to accurately gauge our circumstances and acquaintances… [read more]

Creative Commons License This work is offered under a Creative Commons licence

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  1. HSH Jan 19, 2015 2:42 pm 1

    Very interesting and informative. I have many similar experiences. It is really difficult (in spite of the fact that we think it is easy to do) to be fair-minded and fair-acted in such cases.So we have to ask God to help us to get better in this field of mind/action.

    1. A Jan 24, 2015 11:25 am 1.1

      For myself I have found that every time I have placed myself in a similar stimulation I try to quickly turn to God and ask for his forgiveness. I find that the more I do it the faster and quicker I find myself reacting to the situation and putting a stop to my actions in-vivo and in-vitro.

  2. nk Jan 20, 2015 5:55 pm 2

    Great article! I’m embarrassed to say, but I even go so far as to judge people for not smiling!! I think to myself, this person can’t be a good person, then don’t even return my smile. The awareness this article has given me will help me catch myself and stop these judgmental thoughts.

    1. Saga Jan 26, 2015 9:21 pm 2.1

      Wow your comment was eye opening to me. I always do this. I always blame the person who’s not smiling to be at fault for making me annoyed. I didn’t realize that I’m at fault for judging. Thank you!

  3. HA Jan 21, 2015 8:16 am 3

    Interesting article and conclusions. It’s very true – although I don’t consider myself a judgmental person, I catch myself doing the same thing particularly on the subway; profiling certain types of people based on their behaviours or appearances. One think that I try to remind myself of, other than the inherent good in all human beings is the environment which you mentioned. I cannot confidently say that if I were to be brought up in other circumstances, whether I would be any better than the people that I judge. We know nothing of the stories of others and what has contributed to a certain behaviour or mentality. This even applies to those that we “know” and consider ourselves closer to than random strangers. Even amongst our friends and family, there can be so many things about their lives that we do not know, that they have not shared. It is very difficult not to be prejudiced and judgmental toward others but at the end of the day it comes down to the principle of treating (and seeing) others as we want to be treated.

  4. Naghme Jan 21, 2015 8:54 am 4

    I think that making judgements toward others is part of our nature, Whether we admit to judging someone else or not is an entirely different matter in itself. Judgements are not always poor and many of times they may not be inaccurate either.

    We’re beings of observation and we carry with us every experience and moment that has created us but it’s our reaction to those judgements that will bring about trouble,when We believe that we’re somehow ethically superior to others . there is a saying that It’s easier to see the teensy – weensy little motes in other people’s ” eyes ” instead of the big, honking tree – trunk complete with roots in our own.
    Why do we compare ourselves to each other instead of evaluating ourselves and working toward a better spiritual version of ourselves?

  5. A. Jan 21, 2015 11:56 am 5

    I have been familiar with Ostad Elahi’s prayer entitled “The Quintessence of Religions” for a long time (20 years or so). In this prayer, he says that we should “consider as good every creature whatever and at all times. Since no being is bad in origin: It’s the deed that’s bad, not the doer.” – however rarely do I remember this in daily life. For instance, I have this relative who is very self-centred, who always talks about herself and even though I sometime try not to think negatively about her and I try to avoid thinking that she is a pain in the neck, full of herself etc…, rarely if ever do I try to separate the deeds from the person. Need to implement this approach.

  6. A. Jan 22, 2015 10:44 am 6

    I have tried to apply the lesson from this article yesterday – a long time friend and godfather of my daughter has recently had issues with the local tax people because his business went bankrupt and they discovered that because of some accounting malpractice, he owed a lot of money (to the government). Since he is a certified accountant and has spent ten years working as an auditor, I thought it was unlikely that he was not aware of these accounting malpractices. I began thinking he acted dishonestly and also thought to myself this was after all in line with his general behavior since he had told me many times that the world was a jungle and rules needed to be bent. Add to that, that he has been an appalling godfather (never called my daughter once) and that he had a permanent chronic smugness for so many years because of his successful business … to make the story short I began to nourish negative thoughts towards him over this last couple of months and became aloof and distant- for instance I did not call him over the holidays telling myself that he is someone who never calls (why should I always be the one who makes the effort?!). Despite his wife writing to me and expressing her desire to see me with the rest of the family, because she considers me an old and trustworthy friend (one of the few ones), I kind of turned down her requests etc…

    Only after reading this article did it dawn on me that I had been imprisoned by my negative thoughts (although not prejudices). Thus yesterday/today I fought against my imperious self in vitro at first, by changing my thoughts and trying to have a more fair approach. For instance I told myself that we are here on this planet to make mistakes + learn from them, but especially reminding myself of how, when I had been unemployed a few years ago, he had bent over backwards to find me a job (which he did) … for the in vivo practice I started calling him and his wife, and also took the decision to pay them a visit next week and try to be kind + helpful.

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