Can we heal prejudice?
The video footage of what appear to be more racially-charged shootings of unarmed black men makes me feel unsettled and sad … and something more. It makes me want to help. But what can I do? What can any of us do that will truly make a difference?
One of the things I love about Christian Science is that it’s helped me understand that changing my own thought about a situation does have an impact. But this change of thought isn’t always easy. It requires courage as we face what seem to be our own prejudices and fears and allow ourselves to be deeply and powerfully reformed by God, divine Love.
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In order to be helpful, I had to start by dealing with anything in my own heart that was hateful.
That’s what happened to me as I began to pray about prejudice. I knew that in order to be helpful to my community or the world at large, I had to start by dealing with anything in my own heart that was even a tiny bit hateful or not in line with God, who is pure good. Mary Baker Eddy puts it this way in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Our Master cast out devils (evils) and healed the sick. It should be said of his followers also, that they cast fear and all evil out of themselves and others and heal the sick” (p. 494).
It’s so reassuring to know that if we want to “cast all evil” out of ourselves, all we have to do is ask God to help us. That prayer is always answered. I know because when I asked God to show me if I was prejudiced against anyone (and I really didn’t think I was), I got an immediate answer: I was definitely prejudiced. In fact, I’d been carrying around a fair amount of anger toward a group of people with whom I’d had a series of really negative interactions.
I was startled by this insight, but I was even more surprised by what happened next: I got mad! I didn’t want to give up the anger and distrust. In my mind, it was totally justified. I’d been hurt and wronged, and I could see how prejudice—this generalized view of how I now expected anyone in this group to behave—was my “protection” from getting hurt again. If I anticipated bad behavior, wouldn’t that help me prevent future attacks?
Deep down, I knew this argument was flawed. Previous healings—with bullies and people who’d been unkind to me—had shown me that holding a negative view of someone wasn’t any kind of protection. The only thing that worked was to see these individuals the way God created them: as completely good and actually incapable of evil. This situation, involving a group of people instead of an individual, was no different.
The answer I got was immediate: Pray for the people you think you hate.
To be honest, praying about this was hard. But I was committed to doing it because I didn’t want to participate, even in a small way, in the kind of mentality that can eventually escalate into outright hatred and violence. So, over a period of a couple of weeks, I prayed every day to see this group in a new light—to see them as my brothers and sisters. I thought about this verse from the Bible, which has always helped me in breaking down barriers with people who seem different from me: “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10).
After a while, though, I felt stuck. I was praying with all the right ideas, but inside of me, anger still festered. So I finally asked God straight out: “Please, show me how to pray so that I can let go of these feelings.” The answer I got was immediate: “Pray for the people you think you hate.”
Whoa. I hadn’t seen that answer coming. But what was so awesome about it was that as soon as I changed my approach and began praying for this group, I felt all of those self-righteous feelings of hatred and hurt and anger simply dissolve. In those holy moments of seeing these individuals from God’s perspective, I felt the prejudice being washed away. And I thought: Of course! Because when my thoughts were entirely filled with the love that fuels prayer, there was no place left for hate to exist.
The prejudice we’ve been seeing play out in videos on social media and the news is hard to miss. But we can help address it by being willing to tackle the prejudices in our own lives that seem less obvious but still justified. Maybe the prejudice you’re dealing with isn’t a racial thing, but you just don’t like a particular group of people in your school because “they all” “always act” a certain way. These kinds of generalizations that lead to dislike and divisions are the thoughts that we have the opportunity to address and heal through an understanding of our oneness as God’s children. Divine Love is helping us. And as we allow Love to dominate our thoughts, to reform our hearts, we’ll see changes. These changes may seem modest, but they have the power to contribute to a lessening, and even a healing, of prejudice in our communities and beyond.