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Existential Roundup

Posted on 22 Aug | 0 comments
Photo by Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center.
Photo by Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center.

Welcome to the Existential Roundup, where we bring you links to some articles currently trending that may be of interest to those in the existential-humanistic psychology community.

The events in Ferguson, Mo.—the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager—have once again reignited race and diversity wars in this country. What does it mean for us to be of our own racial or ethnic group and then encounter the “other?” This has been a hot topic in the news this week.

Charles Blow, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote yet another profound column on the issue of race and diversity. In his most recent column, “Constructing a Conversation on Race,” he asks a most important question: why do we only have these conversations when crises occur—when protests are raging and feelings are heightened? Why can we not have these conversations at times of calm when we were are all thinking rationally and logically, when as he says, “people are not feeling aggrieved?” (¶ 5) He writes:

A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not one-directional—from minorities to majorities—but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotype and mistrust must be examined. Personal—as well as societal and cultural—responsibility must be taken.

And privileges and oppressions must be acknowledged. We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists. (¶¶ 6-7)

Blow argues that key to this discussion is understanding the fundamental inequality between whites and other races—that in this country, whites are indeed still more likely to get ahead, and this is something that all races believe, he says, according to a recent CBS news poll. Blow also cites a study reported in National Geographic showing that the brain registers race in about one-tenth of a second, even before the brain registers gender. This happens so quickly that our efforts to be egalitarian obviously follow long after these initial impressions of difference.

An article in Blue Nation Review echoes these sentiments. Dear White People: The Race You Can’t See Is Your Own also discusses some of this brain science around perceptions of race—that we instantly register difference. But the article also notes that whites don’t notice race when in rooms with other whites. Rather, it is only when an “other” appears that race becomes an issue. However, the article also notes that the reverse—for other “minorities” to be in a room only with members of their own race is a very rare occasion, so race is almost always an issue. Even the use of the word “minority” is problematic, for it is used no matter how many members of another race are present, even if at a particular moment in time they comprise the majority of people present.

In case we think irrational hatred and bigotry is only an American issue, Kenan Malik reminds us in a column for The New York Times that in Europe there is “Enough Hate for Everyone: Muslims and Jews Are Targets of Bigotry in Europe.” While it is probably not news that anti-Semitism is flowing in Europe, especially now with the war in Gaza, but Malik points out that a recent Pew survey indicated that those who view Jews negatively also seem to harbor anti-Muslim sentiments as well. He writes:

The fusion of xenophobia, conspiracy theory, identity politics and anti-politics that has nurtured the new anti-Semitism has also cultivated hostility to Muslims. The Pew report found that in every country surveyed, “Opinions about Muslims in almost all of these countries are considerably more negative than are views of Jews.” (¶ 14)

How do we learn to overcome this “us-them” divide? How do we stop generalizing about entire groups, lumping all its members under a single category heading? By remembering the ideas of Martin Buber, for instance, and beginning to find the divinity in each individual human being and respect them. By education, where we learn that the color of one’s skin or the religion one practices is only one part of a whole wonderful set of characteristics that make someone the person he or she is, and that we share many of those other characteristics. By curiosity and openness, where we are interested in each other and listening to each other’s stories and lives. And by dialogue—open, honest, sharing, communication, where we all listen.

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