Ever heard f the famous expression “Don’t judge the book by its cover”? I’m sure you have ot only heard of it but have also used it if not once, several times. But why is it that we have to use it? Don’t people know already that the cover is just that, a cover, and that the real character of a book relies on its content because unless you take the time to read it, no matter how beautiful the cover is, you’ll have no idea what the book is about?
The book metaphor is so commonly known because we individuals, subjects of a certain cultural sctructure tend to look at what’s different with ethnocentricity. The values and meanings that we grow up with shape our perceptions of ourselves and others.
It’s easier to attribute others’ actions preconceived motives in our mind than actually taking the time to understand them. However this kind of mentality leads to misunderstandings and conflict.
I guess it seems easier to just think that the muslim woman a few meters from me is being held way longer than me at the Security Check in the airport because “well…let’s be honest..most terrorists are muslims”; what about ignoring and not doing anything when we see a white young man insulting and mistreating an immigrant in the subway because “well… the immigrant must have done something to deserve it”.
Let’s just take an even simpler and everyday example. You have an Egyptian friend at work whom you and your other friends have invited out for dinner twice but both times she has said “no thank you”. You and your friends think that she might not be interested in being friends with people from work, so you stop inviting her. Meanwhile this girl is sad that you and your friends never insisted in inviting her to dinner, since she didn’t feel comfortable saying yes the first time because in her culture saying yes instantly is rude and people are asked twice or even three times before there can be a positive answer. This whole misinterpretation can be fixed by just approaching the Egyptian girl and taking the time to get to know her and her culture. Once there is some trust acquired, she could be asked if there was a particular reason why she didn’t join the dinners. You might not understand why they do it that way in Egypt but at least you have given the first step of showing interest and you have listened and learned.
The moment we meet someone different we have an opportunity to learn something new. We also find out there is another way of doing certain things other than my way. This is what an encounter is all about, learning.
The road of prejudice is easy and fast while the road of understanding may take more efforts and longer time, but just imagine what a difference it would make if more people applied this kind of thinking and tried to approach “that other different from me” to find out the real motives behind his actions, instead of analyzing them from their own point of view.