Love and Prejudice
Have you ever wondered how great men and women did so much good? Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Florence Nightingale and many others did things that were unprecedented. Their service and vision forever shaped the world for good. There are many great attributes these men and women shared, but I’ve found there is an underlying, and sometimes underappreciated, factor to their work. They genuinely loved people.
From a physiological standpoint, love changes our biochemistry. When we love, a flow of specific hormones and neurotransmitters are produced. Chemicals such as dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, create changes in our energy levels and shifts our focus and desires. They help activate specific parts of the brain and our memory that causes us to feel compassion, connection, and empathy. Our focus shifts from ourselves to the needs of another person or people. This is why you can feel a desire to alleviate the suffering of someone you have never met. Whether you realize it or not, you are feeling love towards that person.
For the most part, though, we don’t always feel compassion towards strangers. We don’t always want to change the world for the better. Why is this? The simple answer is how we’ve conditioned our minds. It is possible, and common, for us to have negative thoughts which, when entertained, produce new circuitries in the brain that induce corrosive associations in our minds. These associations lead to prejudices. Prejudices make it nearly impossible to love strangers. How could you possibly love someone if you think they are a terrorist, bigot, unintelligent, less human, inferior, or any number of irrational associations we have created.
Throughout history, prejudices have been a root cause for wars, terrorism, and many other acts of violence and discrimination. While we may not have a desire to harm someone, we all have created some form of prejudice in our minds. Think about it, do you have any kind of negative feeling towards a certain type of people? It could be their race, religion (or lack thereof), how they dress, how they talk, how tall or short they are, how much money they have, whether or not they went to school, how much more “successful” they are than you, or so many other things. The point I’m making is if thinking about or being around a certain person or group causes negative emotions (anger, fear, jealousy, feeling superior, etc) then it means there are prejudices you have built up, especially if you don’t even know the person.
Be aware that, through self-talk, we can also also create prejudices and negative labels against ourselves for not being wealthy enough, strong enough, thin enough, etc. Having prejudices against ourselves makes it hard to love others as we tend to be jealous of those who have what we think we lack.
The good news is we can eliminate our prejudices. We can create new associations in our minds that allow us to love others and become the best versions of ourselves. The brain has plasticity, which literally allows us to reshape our beliefs, views, and negative associations; we can literally change our brains. The old adage that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is false. You can teach an old dog new tricks, and people prove it everyday. Whether we have labeled ourselves or others, prejudices limit our life and potential to create a better future. Only when we break down the walls of our own self-made prejudices can we truly love others, no matter their religion, sex, race, or political beliefs.
The same is true from any other type of negative thought process or behavior that keeps us from loving others (or ourselves for that matter). Whether it be chronic stress, anxiety, cynicism, pessimism, or whatever the case may be. If you’ve felt bound by prejudices or negative associations, if you’ve wanted to improve, but have faltered, know that there is hope. No one is condemned to their same way of thinking, to their same way of being; we are built to change.
When we freely love people beyond our own friends and family, life is so much sweeter. Everyone becomes a friend; a brother or sister. We’re able to see others as they truly are and the great potential that resides in them. We are more driven to serve; we are more energized and are more creative. So whether you want to change the world, your community, or simply change yourself, start with love.