Can You Change a Bigot?

What do you think? Can you change a bigot? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

The definition of bigotry is “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself,” according to the Oxford dictionary. If you think about it, our beliefs come from a variety of places: our experiences, what we have been taught, what we see on TV, what we read in the media; etc. Perhaps, as adults, we have examined some of our beliefs and cleaned out our mental closets of the ideas we no longer hold true. However, we all have some implicit biases that are unconscious and automatic. Of most of these, we are largely unaware. And in this area, there is plenty of room to help each other grow.

If someone you know holds an unconscious belief that you can see, perhaps you can help him or her recognize the issue. What comes to my mind on this topic is the psychology behind the Johari Window — the idea that we all have blind spots. We don’t like to think we have blind spots, and many of us strive to be culturally competent and politically correct. However, in spite of good intentions, we still make assumptions about others that are not true and are often not fair.

There are five techniques you can use with those around you to help them examine things they say and espouse. These techniques are efforts to raise awareness without attacking or insulting the other person. They use surprise, curiosity, humor, and “I statements” in response to comments that come across as insensitive or bigoted.

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