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Intolerance and Discrimination

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Intolerance and DiscriminationThe end of the first decade of the twenty-first century looms ahead and yet it is sobering to examine a list of some of the types of discrimination that continue to exist in the wold today.

Here are just a few examples of types of discrimination:
Ageism: Fear of the aged
Fear of the Mentally Ill 
Racism
Religious Hatred 
Sexism: Rejection of the opposite sex, especially women.
Weightism: fear of people who are over weight.
Xenophobia: Fear of foreigners 
Misandry: Hatred of men.
Misogyny: Hatred of women.

Discrimination In Action: 

Ethnic cleansing 
Ethnocide
Gay bashing
Gendercide: Usually, killing female first born. 
Genocide
Hate crimes 
Hate speech  
Religious persecution

And, there are many more, just in case the reader believes that this all there is.

In addition, there is bigotry. A bigot is defined as, "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices. The correct use of the term requires the elements of intolerance, irrationality, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs." Wikepdia

The real question is, "From a psychological point of view, what are the root causes of all of this hatred and intolerance? This is a multi level problem and difficult to answer, but, I will make a brief attempt.

First, it is important to point out that those who have such negative attitudes toward others believe that the reasons for their rejection and hatred are based on their rational thinking. They dismiss terms such as "scapegoating and stereotyping." Here is an example of what I'm getting at:

I have a couple of very good friends who, since the attack on the World Trade Center, have nothing but contempt for Muslims. Now, I do not mean that they hate the radicals and militants who planned and committed that act of terrorism. Instead, they hate and reject all Muslims, whether they are Americans or not. These individuals appear to be very normal, rational people who are convinced of the rightness of their feelings and views.

This accounts for one of the root causes of intolerance - "fear." People fear many things, especially the unknown. These friends have never met a person, American or foreign, of the Muslim faith. However, since 9/ll, they harbor a hatred based on a deep seated fear.

In addition, people tend to view others through the prism of their childhood experiences. Those who experienced parental rejection and abuse, grow up with a deep seated sense of worthlessness. Then, as adults, a neat little psychological trick gets played out. The rejection of self experienced during childhood gets turned into the rejection of others deemed as worthless as they felt and continue to feel. Now, the mind says, "It's not me who is worthless, it's "them!"

We know that, for some people, narcissism is at the root of the problem. Narcissism, simply speaking, is self love. Now,hold it, don't start dismissing narcissism as something bad. Freud said that all people need a certain amount of healthy narcissism. There is a problem when an individual's sense of narcissism is too weak or too strong. In either case, any criticism from a boss or some other person, can be too threatening and the individual may turn to violence. There was the very recent case of a Black American who was fired from his job in the bus company he worked for. He grabbed a gun, and shot and killed eight other employees before he committed suicide. His stated reason for the shootings was that he hated white people and wanted to kill as many as possible. This is a case of threatened narcissism ignited by being fired. It's no excuse for committing murder, it's simply an explanation.

One of the most terrible features of hatred and prejudice are that they dehumanize people perceived to be different. History has multiple examples of the "enemy" being characterized and treated as subhuman. The Holocaust is the most obvious example but is far from the only one.

Just in case any of you believe attitudes and acts of discrimination happen only to minorities, I want to disabuse you of that. For example, it is well known that women continue to face sexual harassment problems in the work place. This comes in the form of uninvited sexual attention, lower salaries than men who do the same job, and less important work assignments because they are viewed as less capable due to their gender.

In a world that is being drawn closer together by modern technology in communications, electronics and travel, there is less room than ever for hatred, bigotry and discrimination. We live in a diverse world and, in my opinion, that is something to celebrate.

Finally, in my opinion and experience as a therapist, intellectual, father and teacher, hatred and discrimination are irrational and, therefore, representative of a type of mental illness. It may not be listed in the DSM and everyone might not agree with me, but, I do believe that hatred of others is not mentally healthy.

I strongly invite, and urge your comments and experiences with this important topic.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD