In honor of last week's World Peace Day, let me begin this column with an excerpt from the UNESCO website: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed."
Last week's celebration brought a multitude of positive initiatives to the forefront of our attention, as organizations and groups around the world came forward to do their part. Yet the week also brought news that reminded us of our differences more than bringing us together.
Take the news of another teen suicide, for example, caused by bullying and homophobia. How can we, as parents, as educators -- as concerned citizens -- help our youth meet each other through avenues other than discrimination, self-destruction and violence? What can we do in a world that rather than integrate seems to strengthen our differences? How can we heal the separation and division in society?
These playground behaviors are learned at home, be it from the family or the neighborhood: patterns of discrimination are parroted, roles are adopted that taint our experience of life.
Although we may not be aware of it, we have all adopted these roles in some areas of our lives, be it with our families, in society, at work, or even in the privacy of our own minds. Deep down, we all have inner dialogues of discrimination or criticism toward those we perceive as different.
Discrimination comes from a resistance to embrace anything outside of our own personal boxes. We discriminate against the unfamiliar, against that which we do not identify with, that which falls outside our theology, our ideas. In order to define ourselves as individuals, we must have personalities. Within those personalities we structure belief systems, but as soon as we start to identify with those belief systems, we must defend them, for they now define who we are. As we become love-consciousness, we realize that our belief systems are simply ideas we have cultivated throughout our lives. We start to embrace new perspectives with an open mind instead of an automatic rejection. When we become the love, we embody everything. When we limit ourselves to our personalities and belief systems, there is no room in our boxes for anything else.
Prejudice means always going to war. Prejudice means always defending an idea and justifying our discrimination with the excuse of the higher good -- for the betterment of humanity, the will of god. "Isms" are always "good-isms" in the eyes of the self-righteous.
Historically, we have dropped bombs, fought, and slaughtered in order to protect our beliefs. Let's not do that anymore. Every time we fight for an opinion, even within our immediate family, we are creating our own mini-war. The conflict we perceive in the world is just a manifestation of our own internal violence. As we start to choose joy, let's learn to love the world's duality and other people's differences, knowing that they are aspects of ourselves. Let's find the lightness of laughter and write a new story for the history books to come.
1. In what areas are you prejudiced toward other people, places, or things? Maybe you look down on the people who bag your groceries, or perhaps you turn up your nose to a particular type of food. On the other hand, maybe you put certain people or things on a pedestal, respecting or valuing them more than other things.
2. Pay attention to the thoughts you have as you go through your days, noticing the areas where you discriminate. Ask yourself, Are these my beliefs, or are they the beliefs of my parents, my grandparents, or my culture? Can you release them and open your heart to the things you've been shutting out?
3. Question every aspect of your personality. Look at it carefully and ask yourself, Is this my reality? Does this serve? Or are these prejudices keeping me trapped in a box, limiting my vision?
4. Don't scrutinize yourself from a place of severity. Instead, joyfully become aware of your behaviors, and allow them to evaporate like water that forms clouds to later fall as rain, transformed as a nourishing and inclusive embrace of the world.
Isha Judd is an internationally renowned spiritual teacher. Her book and movie, "Why Walk When You Can Fly?" explain her system for self-love and the expansion of consciousness.