I was writing an article about in-group preferences and out-group prejudices and if there is any way to change someone’s mind to be less biased – and I started remembering a very old story. Back to the school year when I was 12-13 years old. At the time, I lived in England and I was attending TASIS, a middle/high school for international students (maybe a third Americans, but it was long ago).
I don’t remember how this got started, but there were two other kids, one American and Protestant and the other Pakistani and Muslim, who I used to have these deep intellectual philosophic conversations (at least for 12 year olds). We weren’t friends and didn’t see each other outside of school. Just these conversations. I bring up their religions because that was often our topic of conversation.
The memory that jumped out at me over the weekend was a particular conversation where Rahul quite nonchalantly told me that he hoped Israelis would be driven into the Mediterranean and all Jews would die. Except me maybe, because I seemed OK.
I asked him how many other Jews he had ever met. None – I was his first. And his parents would probably be mad that we hung out. So why did he want all the Jews to die? He wasn’t really sure, but his parents seemed to think it was a good idea. And his dad was an important person. It struck me, even at 12 years old, that there was no hate or even dislike in this. It was just a fact, like the grass is green.
As the memory hit me over the weekend, I was trying to decide if this should give me hope or despair. It reminded me (and probably this is why it came to mind) of the Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia, Buddhist/Rohingya . . . situations that we have now. It was really easy for this smart, 12 year-old kid to fall into the same pattern.
But it seemed like a pretty fragile concept in his mind. Even though it seems like each generation poisons the minds of its children with the same biases the parents have, maybe intervention isn’t impossible. Maybe breaking the pattern isn’t a hopeless pipedream.