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“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” – Albert Einstein
All of us have prejudices. No one, no matter how enlightened or educated or progressive in their thinking, can be entirely free from some pre-judgment in life.
The dictionary defines the word prejudice as “an opinion founded on a bias.” Some biases, as we know, tend to be useful. A bias against violence typically extends life. A bias against backbiting can protect you against the corrosive effects of gossip. A bias against gluttony can help prevent obesity.
Researchers have suggested we probably pre-judge as human beings because of our primitive origins as hunter-gatherers ten or twenty thousand years ago. Our brains, hard-wired to protect life at almost all costs, got used to making snap decisions – is that a lion in the bushes? Is that a hostile rival tribe crossing the river toward us? Should I flee or fight? We lived a precarious and dangerous existence then, and those who survived and passed their genes on to us were typically the ones who made quick decisions, many of them based on pre-judging a given situation.
Now, of course, we’ve evolved into highly sociable societies, the world has shrunk and our brains have enlarged. The precarious dangers of our former existence have, for the most part, disappeared. And the hard-wiring for developing a quickly-formed bias that leads to a prejudice – well, unfortunately, that hasn’t yet disappeared. Human beings still form prejudices. And for those on a spiritual path, pre-judgment presents us with one of the greatest dangers we now know. That brings us to number six on our list of nine mistakes spiritual seekers make: Exclusion. Of Anyone.
6. Exclusion. Of anyone.
Prejudices prevent spiritual growth. To exclude others from your orbit for whatever reason, whether conscious or unconscious, will rob you of the richness of life, steal your opportunities for learning, and needlessly harden your heart.
For everyone on a spiritual path, excluding people from your life on the basis of prejudice means a significant lost opportunity. You’ll lose the ability to meet someone who has something to contribute to your life, whether they know it or not. You’ll lose the chance to question and confront your own attitudes and biases, and therefore change them. You’ll lose the bounty of another person’s respect, friendship, love and mutual cooperation. But most of all, you’ll lose the opportunity for building community.
The Baha’i writings put particular emphasis on eradicating all prejudice. While every person has prejudices they’ve formed at various times in their lives, these biases can be so detrimental to our spiritual life that Baha’u’llah calls on all people to clear every prejudice from their hearts:
Shouldst thou make the mirror of the heart pure and clear from the dust of prejudice, thou wilt comprehend all the symbols in the sayings of the perfect Word of Divinity in every Manifestation and be informed of the mysteries of knowledge. But unless thou destroyest with the fire of severance the veils of learning which are conventional among the servants, thou wilt not attain to the brilliant morn of the ideal knowledge. – Baha’i Scriptures, pp. 22-23.
Throughout the Baha’i teachings, the writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha link the eradication of prejudice with successful spiritual search, saying that getting rid of your prejudices is the key to finding the truth:
Man must cut himself free from all prejudice and from the result of his own imagination, so that he may be able to search for truth unhindered. Truth is one in all religions, and by means of it the unity of the world can be realized. All the peoples have a fundamental belief in common. Being one, truth cannot be divided, and the differences that appear to exist among the nations only result from their attachment to prejudice. If only men would search out truth, they would find themselves united. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 129.