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Honestly: we all have pre-judice

Last week I was talking to 2 gentlemen, both of whom are good people with positive visions for the world and both of them have opinions and beliefs that I do not always agree with.  In that conversation one of them pointed out that he enjoyed talking with me because I was “non-judgmental” and that got me thinking.  I do take that as a compliment and, at the same time, I need to see if that is really true.  Why?  Because I have also been told that I am very judgmental.  So – how do I connect the two?  It means I have Reflection time, a reflection I will share with you.

In today’s world of political correctness we keep hearing about how we all should not have pre-judice. That being a “good” person means not having “one of those” and instead loving everyone from the moment you see them – if not before.

While I believe in that we also need to be looking at the reality and the emotions, plus the social training human beings have; then demanding that humans have no pre-judice seems in many ways nonsensical.

I propose, and have for years pointed out, that, instead of trying to pretend that we don’t have pre-judice, which is innately human, we focus on not having irrational judgment.

As a historian, as well as someone who has studied philosophy, psychology and simply knows about the evolution of humanity from a historical and spiritual point, I believe that one of the most irrational things is to say “I have no prejudice.” The word itself means a feeling or emotions prior to judgment:  from prae- (“before”) + iūdicium (“judgment”).
(Source, e.g. https://www.etymonline.com/word/prejudice)

That implies a difference between pre-judice and judgment.

In other words, this allows for all of us to admit that we all have a reaction, a response, or emotion when we meet someone or see something that is new to us. They are almost automatic, this is the pre-judge minute that we are having and we are living those reactions and responses for an instant.

Once the instant is over, it is our responsibility to not follow blindly those initial assumptions. Those assumptions or feelings usually have been trained in to us. It is now on us as a human being to utilize our skills and research where those emotions come from whether or not it is correct to follow them, or what else we might be able to do with those initial assessments that are baseless. Once you have done research, you are now able to come to a judgment.

After all, the pre-judice is “An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge of the facts” (Source, e.g.:    https://www.dictionary.com/browse/prejudice) clearly suggesting the now negative association with the work in the term “adverse” while also pointing to the fact that it is “before” factual knowledge. That means, once that innately human re-action has occurred it’s time to take a breath, take a step to the side and: engage in fact-finding.

That judgment, whichever one we arrived at, does not have to be negative or positive; it needs to be based on fact-finding.  Fact finding, may I point out as a historian and teacher, means finding of all possible resources regardless of their point of view, and engaging with all of them to then arrive at a well-researched opinion, or judgment. That is the only way we can arrive at an objective judgment or objective conclusion. 

Of course, the above refers to the origin of the word, the innate psychology of human beings not addressing the fact that all words easily become societal property and as such they are attached to specific meanings.  In today’s world that meaning for pre-judice is close tied to the notion of racism and the connection to unjust harm being done.  This unjust harm may have been done years ago and thus has layered the perspective of people involved in that injustice.  Since the mid-14th Century the notion of physical harm or injury was added to the associations with pre-judice and the non-biased idea of a preconceived baseless option began to fade.  It faded so much that in 2020 the idea of pre-judice is almost not acceptable as it seems to always mean racially biased or disregarding the rights of another. It has led, especially in the U.S. to an ongoing focus on negative interpretation of pre-judice that is identified as automatically leading to discrimination… pre-meditated discrimination at that. Yet, there is no automation if we take responsibility for our actions following the pre-judice.

I love seeing and tracing how words change and the power we, as humans, have to fill words with meanings.  So, as much as I love all human beings and appreciate every single one as I truly believe in my heart that we all are needed on earth with all our different views and talents, I know I do have pre-judgements.  I also know that once I acknowledge that I am responsible and accountable for the actions and opinions I have after that initial instant.  That’s where our power resides.  That is where I am non-judgmental.  In addition to NOT making up my mind before doing research, evaluating sources, and so forth (yes, I am a through-and-through historian) I also distinguish between people and opinions.   That means I may not agree with your opinion and I may challenge it, yet, I am able to accept your opinion – and agree to disagree – when I know you have done due diligence before arriving at your opinion.  When I accept that it does not take away from the person that you are and what you may mean to me and my life. 

That all means that, yes: thank you for calling me non-judgement and I accept that to some degree because I don’t judge people.  At the same time I have judgments and they are based on factual research of multiple sources, often contradictory in that, that I arrive at based on due diligence. In that I also know that we all, as human being have pre-judice, so let’s not pretend – pretense is denial of truth and reality. If we honestly want to address the possible negative impact of pre-judice then we first need to acknowledge that it exists. When we acknowledge something we can better “beat” or “change” it.  If we don’t acknowledge something that exists (behavior, patterns, things, people, events, etc.) we cannot change it; that is the challenge we face in times that we focus on avoiding issues to ensure that we don’t get into arguments or public “trouble.” 

In the end, it’s about honesty and integrity – that includes pre-judice, accountability for your actions, responsibility for objective research and fact-finding, and finally: open conversation.  What are you doing with your pre-judice?

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