Jay Rifenbary

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Overcoming Discrimination and Stereotypes – How Far Have We Not Come?

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In the aftermath of Susan Boyle’s heart rendering rendition of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, on “Britain’s Got Talent”, I was left not only inspired, but saddened. Although the multi-million hits you tube video is an inspiration, it is also a reflection of how far as a global community we have NOT come in overcoming our pre-judgment of others; and the stereotypes directed towards others in what we assume their capability of achievement may be based on appearance. It demonstrates continued predominance of individuals judging the “book by its cover”, and validates this destructive social force is alive and flourishing in all parts of the world. Everyday we witness a diversity of world hatred towards individuals, groups, religions, cultures and nations. Will it ever stop?

As a society, have we reached a level of openness and non-judgment towards those around us that is equitable? How far have we come in regard to the stereotypes and prejudices that we place on others based on appearance and general body language? These are two questions that should be discussed frequently with our children, and be a continued recognition in our own lives to lessen the stereotypical influences presented via many forms of media and technology. We are continually challenged with deciphering through false misconceptions of what it takes, and means, to be successful. How many reality shows can we name to illustrate that point? One definition of discrimination is, “the ability to discern what is of high quality; good judgment or taste”. How does one achieve that, by appearance, race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, or age? I would hope we have made strides in regard to judging others by their character not the color of their skin, as Martin Luther King, Jr. so poignantly shared in his “I Have a Dream” speech 46 years ago. Stereotype is defined as, “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” It is quite apparent this continues to be a prevalent behavior by many on a daily basis. When we walk down the street and notice someone who may appear physically different, be from somewhere else, or may dress as though they are part of a different faith or culture, and discern a conclusion of that person’s character, how incredibly naïve and ignorant is that? We have all placed preconceived notions of what an individual may be based on impressions other than ones character. It is diligent awareness of this deteriorating thought process that promotes a greater respect towards those we perceive as being different than ourselves.

One of the major themes within my “No Excuse!” seminar training sessions is the importance of treating our fellow man and woman with dignity and respect. Over the years of growing as a person, and challenging myself to further learn and understand life, I have discovered four areas that can assist all of us in decreasing our rapid judgment and stereotyping of others. I share with you the four E’s., Education, Empathy, Experience and Equality. Educating ourselves in the knowledge of social and cultural history provides a foundation of understanding on a macro scale of people and their societies. I find it invigorating to learn about the advancements of civilizations and their contributions to world science, language and economics to name a few. It generates an appreciation for where we come from. Empathy, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others”, is essential to recognizing humility in ourselves, and capabilities in others. Experience validates education and fosters empathy. What is it like to walk in the shoes of those we stereotype, or discriminate against? What does it feel like to have nothing materialistically, to be physically different, appear different, or feel out of place? Although some may never experience prejudice or discrimination, to participate in the lives of those who have heightens or own insight and appreciation for those who are the victims of directed unfairness. Equality is being aware, and accepting, that we may have different talents, skills, and beliefs, but we are all equally part of humanity. Enjoy the benefits of being open-minded to the goodness of others on the inside, and understand we are all part of a bigger world than ourselves. It is an appreciation that is beneficial to all.



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