President Elect Biden must now unite us in meeting the challenges of the pandemic, the economy, the climate, and social ills. To do this, he can use a powerful tool of science, modeling.
Modeling is observing a person showing a particular behavior and then engaging in that behavior. One learns to behave a certain way just by observing a person behaving that way. And, if the model gets a reward for a particular behavior, it is even more likely the observer will engage in that behavior.
For example, watching a person on a television program or on social media show kindness and honesty in interactions with others, inspires the viewer to show kindness and honesty. The viewer might also see that person rewarded for those behaviors by the recipient smiling and saying “thank you”. Likewise, watching a person insulting others and repeating lies increases those behaviors in the viewer, especially if there is a reward for doing so. The reward can be as simple as then feeling superior over others.
When the President of the United States models bigotry and lying, followers see these behaviors as ones that will get them what they want. When the President of the United States models respect and honesty, followers will show each other the same.
President Elect Biden can demonstrate listening with empathy and then acting with compassion. If he models these behaviors on social media, he can heal the divide as more and more people begin to show these behaviors towards each other.
If he models these behaviors in his interactions with politicians, he will increase the chance that those politicians will also show these behaviors in developing a consensus where everyone wins.
Modeling is such a powerful learning device that even advertisers use it to get viewers to buy their product. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were prosocial models who were able to inspire global social change. Now President Elect Biden will have no difficulty consistently modeling prosocial behaviors that are his second nature. These behaviors will then bring us together to create a better country for all of us. We will learn to listen to each other rather than denigrating those who think or act differently from us. Empathy, respect, compassion, and honesty come naturally to him. And, because these are the behaviors of love, if we all start showing them, they can replace hate.
Bandura, A. (1986., Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (pp. 169-195).
Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models’ reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 589-595.
We all want to be loved. But how do we feel loved instead of lonely, especially now during this pandemic? Surprisingly, ancient texts might give us an answer.
More than a thousand years ago the stoic, Hecato, asserted, “If you would be love, love”. And a similar sentiment can be found in the Bible (“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”). Even Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.”
What all these wise people knew was that to get love, you have to give love. Give a love that is a deep caring for the well being of another person. That person may not look like you, act like you, or even believe in what you believe. But you can extend a loving hand to that person.
One of the best ways to extend a loving hand is through volunteering to enhance the well being of others. Volunteering can be anything from giving your time to giving your skills to help another person. Most important is the care you are giving that person. A gentle touch or a loving word can mean so much to someone who is isolated or in need.
“But what is the love you are receiving by volunteering?” you may ask. Indeed, you may not feel like the other person reciprocated or even thanked you. Yet, it is in the giving, not the receiving that you feel love.
Doing something nice for another person gives you the social connection you may have been longing for. And it makes you feel better because you are focusing on someone else instead of the anxiety and loneliness you may be feeling. Indeed, research has shown that oxytocin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, spikes in some people who regularly volunteer. The increase in oxytocin also helps you to better manage stressful events.
Volunteering also has health benefits, such as lowering your blood pressure. Helping others can even lessen symptoms of chronic pain because it takes your mind off your worries. In fact, random acts of kindness light up the same reward centers of the brain associated with food and sex. A natural high occurs when you give to others.
Finally, volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. When you are isolated not only do you miss the social connection but you also start losing a sense of purpose. You can find meaning and direction (as well as an activity to just get out of the house) by helping others.
As you can see, the secrete the ancients knew is supported by today’s research into giving to others. So, now get out there and do for others what you would want done for you. Share the love.
Lexicon for a Pandemic
The New Yorker July 20, 2020 Issue By Jay Martel
Maskhole: An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective—e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.
Face naked: The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”
Body mullet: What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)
The novid-19: The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.
Overdistancing: When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.
Domino distancing: When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.
Emotional distancing: Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.
Covideo: A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.
Stockholm syndrome: The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.
Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday: Days of the week.
Parenting: The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.
Body Zoom-morphia: Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.
Quorumtine: The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.
Pan-demic: A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.
covid-30: Formerly covid-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.
Helter shelter: That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”
Flattening the curve: Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See covid-30.)
Germophobe: Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.
Going viral: No longer used. ♦
Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.
Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher.
With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.
Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day. They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone.
Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.
Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling
Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease. Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others. When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack. Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness.
In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable. Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser. And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others. You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.
Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself
If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others.
But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful. Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively. In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities.
Reach Out to Others
Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.
Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.
Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.
Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.
Where to Find Others
If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating.
Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping. Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens? Then do an online search for where you might be most needed. The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”. Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community. Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.
If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually. You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.
Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.
You meet someone on line. Then you text. Then you Zoom or, if possible, meet for coffee. But why, as the interaction increases, do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?
Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is. Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.
So, what should you look for online in a possible partner? And how do you best present yourself online?
To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship. Consider whether you are looking for a short-term or a long-term relationship because, in one study, both men and women focused on sexual desirability when evaluating a prospective short-term relationship. They cited qualities such as physical attractiveness and athleticism. Yet, when a long-term relationship is desired, honesty, warmth, kindness, and intelligence were cited.
Next, prioritize these qualities. The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions. A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.
If only one of the qualities you desire is listed, you can use later interactions to ask questions that might elicit the other qualities or even some surprising other desirable qualities. For example, you could ask what qualities the online prospect is looking for. Then you will know whether there is a mismatch in what you both are seeking. Or you could ask about a time when the person told a lie and how they felt about it.
What you often do not see immediately online are some qualities that are red flags. Everyone is initially trying to present an ideal self. And you might be so enamored at the beginning that you are blind to the subtle cues that indicate that person is not a keeper. Often, it isn’t until you are much deeper into the relationship that these red flags begin to show. For example, does the person want others to do things their way; blow hot and cold; get highly threatened by differences of opinion? (More of these red flags can be found in Beverly Palmer’s Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life). We all show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the insistence and persistence of them that create problems in relationships.
How do you find out about characteristics that do not bode well for a long-term relationship when you are just interacting online? One strategy is to ask how they would react in a given situation. Ask, “If someone interrupted you when you were trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone didn’t think or act the way you expected them to.”
Now focus on yourself. How are you presenting yourself online? There is not a long list of qualities you have to have in order to be loveable. There is only one main thing you have to do: listen to the other person. Online communication or texting can present some impediments to getting the full message that is being communicated. But, if you pause before shooting off your reply, you can pick up the essence of the message and you can let your partner know what that essence is.
Everyone wants to be listened to and acknowledged that they were heard. Showing you have listened to others makes them feel appreciated and valued. They then love you because you make them feel this way.
To listen closely enough to the other person to understand what they are trying to communicate is not easy. First you have to de-center and focus on the other. You have to let go of any anxiety or concern about how you should respond. Focus entirely on the other person instead of what you are thinking or feeling. After you have heard what was said, do not give your instant reaction. Instead, repeat back the essence of what you heard. After you have acknowledged that you understood what was communicated, you can say what is important to you. Throughout your conversation you have to let the other person know you have listened before stating your point of view.
You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is. Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.
Regan, P.C., Levin, L., Sprecher, S., Christopher, F.S. & Gate, R. (2000). Partner preferences: What characteristics do men and women desire in their short-term sexual and long-term romantic partners?. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. 12 (3), 1-21. https:// doi.org/10.1300/J056v12n03_0
Here’s How to Keep the People You Are Cooped Up with from Getting on Your Nerves
Sue and Sam are both working from home (and their tiny home is feeling tinier by the minute). Alisha is bored out of her mind and has never felt so alone even though she rooms with Jordan. And then there is Luz who is losing her mind trying to entertain kids nonstop day in and day out.
You might be working from home or have children at home–all day long. Does it seem like every five minutes someone wants something? And do you find yourself sometimes snapping at those in your home or even those on the screen?
You probably have discovered that criticizing or trying to control the behavior of other people in your life just doesn’t work. So, what, then, can you do to not have frayed nerves?
First, set aside a personal space and a time of no interruptions for each person in your home. It’s the constant demands for attention that get on your nerves. Even in a small home, find a corner where you can set up a table and a chair, or if you have particularly pesky people around, you might even have to close a door or cordon your space off with a rope and hang and sign on it that says “shhh”. Some private space and a quiet moment can help everyone decompress. But don’t forget to also set aside a mutually agreed upon time to interact. After all, you don’t want to look like you are never approachable.
Perhaps you can’t avoid those taxing people (you may even be trying to homeschool them), but if you find yourself starting to snap at others, use this phrase instead of the snippy one to state your concern. Fill in the blanks in this phrase: “When you….I feel….and I want/need to…..” For example, “When you interrupt me, I feel harassed and I need to focus on what I’m doing for the next half hour.” A statement like this does not criticize nor try to control the other person, because there is no “you” in this statement. It simply states what you are feeling and what you need.
Another way to respond to triggering behavior is to monitor your rising tension or anger so you can do something to reduce it before giving a curt response. Stand up, stretch, and then take 3 slow, deep breaths. Periodically do this even if you are not tense or angry because it can head off those feelings. The deep breaths create a relaxation response as well as giving you a moment to re-group and re-focus. If all of this fails and you catch yourself starting to yell, take a walk outdoors (but do tell the people in your house when you will be back).
Sometimes writing your complaint down on paper instead of saying it can be helpful. The irritation is then on the paper instead of on your mind and you can even toss that irritation in the trash. Or you can stash it away for a time when you can voice the complaint more calmly.
A great way to break the cycle of irritation and keep the peace is to say something positive. Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that it is not the amount of negative statements that dooms a relationship but the ratio of negative to positive statements. For a harmonious relationship there must be five positive communications for every one negative communication. If a complaint or criticism does slip out, follow it with telling the other person what you appreciate about them. It will keep them from feeling attacked and defensive, and may remind you why you choose to live with them in the first place.
It only takes one of you to follow these suggestions and improve your household vibe. Your choices can create the model for how to treat one another. Then the people you interact with will tend to follow your lead. An example of the other person following your lead is seen in empathetic communication. If you put aside your concerns and listen intently to the other person, you will be able to give that person empathetic feedback. When someone receives empathy, they are more likely to give you empathy. These minor changes can help to create a happier relationship with those at home with you during these trying times.
“Climate change is a hoax,” my cousin said during a family birthday party. “I saw on Twitter it’s just a way to get people to buy expensive electric cars.” I sighed while thinking, “How can he be so misinformed?” Indeed, what I wanted to say was, “Good grief, social media lies are all you read.”
No doubt my cousin thought the same of me, when I said Republican senators are too afraid of the president to do what’s right. Not wanting to create a scene, we let each other’s statements slide by in icy silence.
As a psychology professor and clinical psychologist in private practice, I know my relationship with my cousin would have improved if we could have discussed those issues in a nonthreatening way. If only.
I’m not alone in my frustration – and my desire for change. A December 2019 poll conducted by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos showed more than nine out of 10 Americans said it’s time to reduce divisiveness, which they believe is exacerbated by government leaders and social media. People want to stop the animosity and relate to one another again. But how?
Based on my knowledge of psychological research, here are four approaches you can use to overcome divisiveness.
Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a “Meetup” group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home.
What activities like these share is a common goal, which creates a cooperative atmosphere instead of a competitive one. Research demonstrates that contact alone does not ensure cooperative interaction. To truly connect, you both have to demonstrate respect while working on a common goal.
2. Find common ground
It’s important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments.
An argument involves two people asserting one is right while the other is wrong. But what gets lost in this scenario is the common ground of the problem they both are trying to wrestle with.
Restate the problem. Together, brainstorm all the different ways it might be solved.
For example, a person might say the only way to protect America from terrorism is to sharply limit immigration. Instead of challenging that immigration must be limited, you can restate the problem – then ask if there might be ways to deal with terrorism besides limiting immigration. You might find some solutions you agree upon.
Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts.
Everyone wants to be acknowledged as heard. If they are not, they will continue to press their point. So, to stop an argument in its tracks, start listening and reflect back what you’ve heard.
You’ve probably experienced listening for only what you want to hear – and possibly found yourself not listening at all. You may just be waiting to give a knee-jerk reaction to what the other person is saying.
To listen well, you need to first open your ears, eyes and heart. Examine your biases so you can hear without judgment. Suspend your self-interest and stay with what the other person is saying. Then tell that person what you heard.
Showing empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying. It just means you’re reassuring the other person you have listened before making your own statement.
Now, it’s time for you to share where you’re coming from. Take a deep breath. Cool down and reassess your thoughts so you can give a considered response, instead of a quick reaction. You can disagree without being disrespectful.
Communication using the above process leads to a conversation instead of an argument and builds a more trusting relationship. It takes only one of you to create an empathetic conversation, as empathy begets empathy. The more compassionate understanding you give, the more you get.
4. Learn to critically evaluate media
Don’t passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.
Above all, if the message seems fake, don’t share it. Google has a fact-checking tool, and First Draft News has tools to evaluate false content and the way it is disseminated. You can also consult Full Fact and CUNY’s fact-checking guide. So, when you hear or see someone sharing fake information, don’t challenge it. Instead, show how to fact check the information.
Avoid anger and hate in the content you consume. Evaluate whether it is seeking to pit you against another person or group. Follow media that supports empathy, compassion and understanding. But don’t get lulled into a bubble by reading only content you agree with. Help children and teens, not only to critically evaluate media, but also to become kind and caring toward people who are different from them. Teach tolerance by showing tolerance. Yes, you are only one person trying to create change, but your influence does matter.
As for me, the next time I see my cousin, I plan to listen with empathy; let him know I understand his point of view; and try to identify a common goal around which we can share our perspectives.
(The above article was first posted in The Conversation.)
With Valentine’s Day Approaching, Try These Tips To Make This Day A Special One.
Does Valentine’s Day make you wish you had someone to love (and to love you)? Don’t despair—there are ways to dispel loneliness during the Valentine’s Day hype, and help get you out doing something you enjoy. When you are deeply involved in an activity with other people you have a common goal and interests that connect you. Frequent exposure to others increases their liking of you, so besides having an enjoyable time, you might find a new love by engaging in some of the following suggestions from Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D., professor and clinical psychologist.
Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping. Would it be children, the homeless, migrants, senior citizens? Then, search online for where you might be most needed. VolunteerMatch.organd CreateTheGood.org are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your community. Not only would you be making a positive change, you would be meeting others with similar values.
- Foster or Adopt a Pet
You may find a pet to be a loving companion. A cat can give you comfort as it curls up on your lap, while a dog will get you out of your house on a daily basis where you will meet neighbors and other doggie lovers at the park. You then instantly have something in common with those around you and something to talk about. Petting a dog or cat releases the “love hormone”, oxytocin, in both the person’s and pet’s brains, according to a group of Swedish researchers. Oxytocin creates a feeling of being loved and insures a strong bond, so your pet can help you feel less lonely. Contact your local pet adoption group or borrow a friend’s pet before taking the plunge.
- Join a Special Interest Group
If you have a hobby you could join a group of people who share that interest. Every city has an abundance of special interest groups, professional association functions, alumni events, and civic organization meetings. Find group activities on websites such as meetup.com. These may involve hiking, cooking, developing a new skill, discussing a topic, or participating in a sport.
- Sign up for a Course or Fitness Center’s Program
If you have a regularly scheduled event where you are with other people, you already have a way not to be lonely during the upcoming Valentine’s Day. Seek out adult classes that interest you at your local university, or join a gym. Both men and women are attracted to the other’s sweat, reports a Swiss study, which explains why health clubs are such popular hunting grounds! Don’t forget to reach out and connect to others by asking for advice or noticing when someone needs help. Don’t wait for someone to find you—smile and start talking with someone who is engaged in the activity with you.
- Read a Good Book
Visit your library or bookstore. Selecting a book from browsing the shelves gives you an opportunity to interact with others before going home to read. Escape to another world through an engrossing fiction. Learn something new through a helpful nonfiction book, such as Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life, which will give you even more suggestions on how to avoid the Valentine’s Day blues.
Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups. And these divisions are becoming more and more entrenched. So, why is this occurring?
Similarity Brings Comfort
Psychologists say it is easiest to stick with people who we see as similar to ourselves. It requires more effort to step outside our bubble. So, we tend to associate with people who look or think like ourselves.
We then we take the similarity even one step further by assuming that people who are similar to us on one characteristic are similar to us on many other characteristics. For example, if a person belongs to the same political party or religion that we do, we might think they also like the same activities that we do. Thus, we have a strong tendency to categorize people with a broad brush.
We also want assurances that we will be liked before we attempt to interact with someone else. People who are similar to us tend to be liked by us and tend to like us more so than is the case with dissimilar people. Again, then, we isolate ourselves from the challenge of being with dissimilar people. The process of seeing our group as the best group is known as ingroup bias.
Ingroup Bias is Hardwired
Viewing others in the same way we view ourselves is a function of a part of our brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex. Other parts of our brain also predispose us to ingroup bias.
We see the same behaviors of people not in our group as different from those of people in our group. A group of psychologists presented Democrats and Republicans during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004 with an initial statement (e.g., a politician said they were going to lower taxes) from a presidential candidate of their own or another political group. Participants were subsequently shown a statement which involved an action which contradicted the initial statement (e.g., the politician is now not lowering taxes). Participants perceived less contradiction between the initial statement and the action that contradicted the statement from their own group leader. This biased processing of information from ingroup versus outgroup leaders showed up as activation in certain areas of the brain.
When feeling threatened by an outgroup member, another part of our brain is activated. Australian psychologists asked Non-Muslim participants to decide to either shoot a photograph of a Muslim (outgroup member) or a Non-Muslim (ingroup member) who, in the photograph, was holding a gun. When confronted by the photograph of the outgroup member with a gun and while deciding to shoot the photograph of this member, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the Non-Muslim participant was activated. But it was not activated when deciding whether to shoot the photograph of the ingroup member.
Ingroup Bias is Amplified by Social Media
Social media increases our isolation from others. We tend to subscribe to popular media which only confirms our point of view. People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it. And when we are not exposed to outgroup members, our ingroup bias is intensified.
Stereotypes of outgroup members run rampant. We even then begin surmising what other people think. People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists. People who are trying to immigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders. These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as not only making us uncomfortable but as being a threat.
It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality. Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are, at best misinformed, and even terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not. Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us in terms of stereotypes.
See Others as Individuals, Not as Members of a Group
To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts. We cannot just stay in our safe shell. We have to actively seek out people who are not similar to us. We will then see others as individuals, not just as members of an outgroup.
One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States. Another way is for positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own to be presented in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.
There are many benefits to taking the risk of being with people different from ourselves. One benefit is changing attitudes toward outgroup members. The change in attitudes reduces conflict, which benefits one’s well being as well as society.
Another benefit of interacting with outgroup members is self-expansion. Self-expansion means we develop a wider view of who we are and of what we are able to do. We are motivated to expand ourselves. And one of the best ways to do so is to engage in activities with members of an outgroup. We begin to incorporate some of the positive characteristics and resources of others into our view of our self.
Yes, we need to reach out and speak to people other than ourselves. But, most of all, we need to listen to them.
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