© Nicole Mason 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
April 10, 2011
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This is a perspective on how the world teaches us to eliminate the biases we all have, whether or not we recognize and acknowledge all of them. By bias I mean:
1. Unfair acts or beliefs stemming from some type of prejudice
2. A preference or inclination that inhibits impartial judgment
3. Distinct from an opinion, which one may hold BUT will choose to suspend in the face of new information, with a willingness to challenge and maybe change one's thoughts and actions.
Our biases may be unconscious and spur-of-the-moment actions driven by thoughts about which we are not even aware or by assumptions we have never questioned or realized were present. Or some of our biases may be conscious, firmly held beliefs that are thought of as justified. Either way, biases are limiting beliefs.
I want us to focus our attention on racial, religious and cultural biases. These biases are hot buttons and we, especially as Unitarian Universalists, want to believe we are not biased against or in favor of certain races and cultures. As Unitarian Universalists we also pledge to be open to the teachings of all religions, in order to respect others and seek individual truth. However, if we take an honest, introspective and nonjudgmental look at ourselves, each of us will realize there are inherent biases that play out in our words and actions. For example, look at your circle of friends. How diverse is it?
Biases are natural; they occur automatically, and often live subconsciously when we are not paying attention. I want to give attention to our biases, in an effort to raise awareness so each of us can consciously acknowledge our individual biases, then choose to be truly open to all perspectives, and make deliberate choices in our words and actions, rather than be run by prejudicial beliefs that automatically drive us.
Eliminating our biases opens up countless possibilities. There are boundless possibilities for what we can learn or experience by being conscious and open-minded enough to overcome narrow thinking, ignorance, misconceptions or unfounded beliefs that form the basis of our biases. Consider also that it is necessary to eliminate these biases in order to uphold our Unitarian Universalist principles and grow our congregation. Also: Consider that doing so could lead to better relations with others around us and, ultimately, worldwide peace.
Consider that biases limit us and close us off from opportunities. If knowledge is power and experience valuable, think of how much better and more effective each of us could be by becoming aware of and setting aside our prejudices and limiting beliefs.
Consider the positive changes we could make to the lives of people around us by thinking and acting consciously and free of limiting beliefs that have unwittingly seeped into our thoughts and guided our actions during the course of our lives so far.
The world shows us there is value and balance in differences. Like the yin and the yang, differences are complimentary and things that are seemingly contrary are interconnected and interdependent. The diverse world in which we live teaches lessons of unity. Underneath the differences, we are all fundamentally the same - we all share the same joys and concerns regardless of race, culture or religion: food, money, love, health and happiness. Smiles are universal, as are tears. This unites us as one race - the human race; practicing one religion - personal truth; in one culture - living a fulfilling life. Our small piece of the world shows us only one perspective and skews our perceptions, sometimes leading us to believe our perspective is THE way or the BEST way - this is the insidious foundation of bias. If we do not pay attention, our narrow perspective can close us off from the teachings and benefits of those different from ourselves. And we may become righteously judgmental and wish to impose our way on others or condemn those who are different. If we become aware of our biases, we can choose to dismiss them and suspend our opinion and be open to other ideas. Being cognizant of our biases also allows us to acknowledge the perspective we individually contribute to the world, as well as see that we have something to learn.
The more we learn about other parts of the world and its people, religions and cultures, the more the world proves there are many equally valid and viable viewpoints. Everyone collectively benefits from these differences. The elimination of a religion, culture or race, would negatively impact others. No good has ever come of genocide, which is the extreme and ultimate result of biases. We depend on each other. We depend on people all over the world to contribute to our and each others' economy, ecology and food sources. The world teaches us that we need to coexist. By eliminating our biases, we open ourselves to the myriad of lessons from the world of differences, and the natural connectedness that is always available to us if we are receptive. By being receptive to this and fostering unity, we can achieve more than could ever be achieved through divisiveness, separation and isolation. We can achieve peaceful coexistence by eliminating our biases.
While our environment instills in us our biases, if we make a conscious effort to recognize them and focus on identifying similarities between people, religions and cultures we can bridge the differences that divide us. We can see what the world, beyond our immediate environment, has to show us. We are all human and we all have preferences and prejudicial tendencies, but we can choose to manage them and not allow them to manage us.
For instance, our chosen faith is a preference that is not shared by those who subscribe to other congregations or religious groups. They may be biased against us and shun our views, and we may be biased to believe our principles should be shared by all religions and dismiss those who disagree as mentally flawed. But we may choose to own our preference, yet remain open and accepting of others' choices. As Unitarian Universalists, we pledge to believe in the inherent dignity and worth of all people; equity and compassion in human relations; and acceptance of one another. These principles demand acceptance, respect and openness. Doing this requires us to set aside biases.
If we reflect on what those principles really mean and ask us to do, we may struggle with them. We may be confronted with our own opinions and feelings that some people, religions or cultural beliefs and practices are not agreeable or acceptable to us. We may not be able to respect views with which we disagree. We may find ourselves unable to see the worth in all religious views, for example, or unable to treat certain people with dignity because we do not approve of their cultural practices. We may fall short of treating others with equity and compassion when we do not understand their culture or agree with their views. All because our thoughts are our beliefs and our beliefs lead to actions, and our inherent, built-in biases are reflected in what we think, say and do.
How can we authentically promote our principles if we are unaware of the biases that may cause us to act or say things that contradict these principles, and get in the way of believing in the inherent dignity and worth of all people; being equitable and compassionate in human relations; and accepting of one another? How can we really accept one another when our biases get in the way of acceptance? Do our biases require us to agree with something in order to accept or respect it?
Consider that acceptance does not require agreement; that it is distinct from agreement. Perhaps it is just neutral and impartial. Consider that acceptance may be found in respect, and that we can respect someone we disagree with. Whether differences are racial, cultural or spiritual, in order to truly accept and respect others, we must be able to set aside the attachment we have to our opinions and beliefs (in other words, set aside our biases) and be open to look objectively and nonjudgmentally at another belief, perspective or culture, respecting differences regardless of our preferences or agreement or disagreement with them. This pure, unbiased view of others - neutral respect and acceptance - opens us to all the possibilities of learning and connecting with the rest of the human race, and living the principles we espouse.
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