Is Different Bad? Thoughts on Religious Discrimination
There are two things that are constant in this world: change and differences. The minute that a child recognizes the world, it sees something different at every glance, something very different from what it’s accustomed to in the womb. Yet, in order to live well, they must adapt quickly and get used to the changes. Eventually they do and life goes on well. This is the pattern of life from the beginning.
However, a flash back at history tells another story. Ills of mankind sprung up like weeds in the timeline of humanity. From slavery to genocide, man mistreated each other because of perceived differences. For instance, slavery, before it was deemed acceptable to the western world, started off with a process that planted the idea that humans with a darker complexion were inherently different, and subsequently inferior, compared to those with a lighter complexion.
The way in which this was achieved was subtle. It started with adventurers from the “civilized” world exploring other lands. These explorers discovered people who looked different than the people back at home. Their culture was different, their way of life was different– or at least, this was how it was portrayed in their journals which were sent back home.
Within these journals were descriptions of women from Africa that depicted them so different from the women back in England. For instance, they were described to have body parts almost resembling that of animals, with breasts dangling close to the ground, and were also described that these women gave birth without pain– which was such a foreign idea to the childbirth experiences back home. These descriptions created the concept of “other”; that there were “others” who were different, not just in appearance but inherently different.
Descriptions comparing them to animals further equated “different” with “lesser”. As more of these accounts traveled back home, the more it became accepted to view these people from these foreign lands as “different and less”. Their pain was different. Their minds were different. Their comprehension was different. These “other” mothers did not feel the same pain of having their child snatched away as the mothers back in England. Therefore, when the first slave ship arrived in the western world, it wasn’t too much of a shock because there was already a mindset that these people they were bringing in were not really “people” on the basis that they were different and less than. Eventually, there came this idea that “different” was “abnormal” and injustices that plagued humanity such as discrimination based on race, religion, what have you, became the fruits of this seed.
But “different” is a constant of life and it is also ubiquitous; it is neither good nor bad. Even within a group of people claiming to be one and the same, there are always differences whether in attitude, behavior, personality, appearances– and people are able to deal with these differences just fine. These differences seem to be overlooked. However, it is interesting to see that some differences are more accepted than others based on the majority’s perception of what it means to be different.
The 21st century has not escaped these ills. Discrimination based on differences continues to plague society even today. There is a movement, however, pushing against this idea that “different” means “less”, and though this idea needs to be planted, it is not a new idea. For example, at the workplace, everyone has their own style of communication– everyone is different. Yet, everyone can coexist peacefully. It’s not everyday that people’s lives fall apart because one person has a different style than the other person. However, this is not always the result of other kinds of differences. For example, differences in religion have resulted in discrimination from all fronts, whether in the workplace or even in society. The reason why is because people have associated that “different religion” from the norm means something bad. It is not necessarily the difference that makes it bad but it is the perception that it is bad that indeed makes it bad. The difference itself is normal because such is life. The perception that the difference is abnormal is not.
How can this thinking be resolved? In short, it would be very difficult to resolve the thoughts of billions of people which are rooted in centuries of reinforcement but the situation is not hopeless but it will take consistency. Just as how children learn to get used to a world full of differences, the adults of this world also must follow suit and to do so, they must be exposed consistently to differences. This is why the movement towards diversity and welcoming it could be helpful as long as it doesn’t assign different with anything positive or negative– but rather just the way life is.
For instance, many schools could strive to be more diverse by admitting students from different backgrounds, cultures, religions. Society can strive to be more educated on different backgrounds, cultures, or religions by having neighborhoods of diverse communities. These are changes that can be implemented which can eventually recreate the mind. It sounds foreign and a bit like brainwashing but judging where society is today, it has already been recreated and brainwashed– whether for the best or for the worst, it is up to the individual to decide.
One of the biggest issues in the United States is religious and non-religious discrimination. Along with inter- and intra-religious discrimination, even those who do not have religious affiliation also experience discrimination. For instance, atheists are discriminated against by not being allowed to hold political office. Even in these experiences, one can see that discrimination…does not discriminate. Whichever group someone claims to be a part of could potentially be in danger of discrimination not because they are different but because someone else perceives their different-ness as something that is not acceptable.
One of the biggest roles in perpetuating this idea that being different is a bad thing is the media. Reputation is easily tainted especially in the religious community by the spread of false information regarding a particular group. The biased adjectives that headlines even use to convey their information is itself contributing to the negative perception of someone’s uniqueness, perpetuating the notion of the “other”. To be able to fight against this is not an easy task but requires the effort not only of society but also policy.
Organizations and the media themselves need to strive to be familiar with people of other cultural or religious backgrounds by inclusion (e.g. hiring not just a certain group of people, admitting not just students with certain backgrounds, providing accurate information of someone’s beliefs by covering the lives of the actual people who belong to that group). Essentially, to combat against discrimination, society should strive to be familiar with each other.
In this word “familiar” contains “family”. In a family, not every member is the same. In fact, they could all be very different from each other but there can still be peace, unity and acceptance because they are familiar with each other and understand that differences are just differences.