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The trouble with all of us, human beings, is that we try to categorize or label everything. We build separate compartments for different things – different as we individually see them. We attempt to explain the totality of things – emotions, sentiments, image, beliefs, values etc – in a single word or a small set of words.
We are either something or we are not
Thus we have words like fundamentalism, which looks at everything in black and white, or relativism, which believes only in grey, or pluralism which tells us that diversity and heterogeneity are key and differences don’t matter, or sectarianism that claims that only difference is important or individualism which talks about the good of the individual, or tribalism that emphasizes the good of many.
But when we do this we just restrict our thinking and our opinions. We don’t seem to realize that we create a binary world where we are either something or we are not. So you are a fundamentalist or you are anti- fundamentalist, you are a feminist or an anti-feminist and so on. This division is not always logical but we do not try and see which belief is true or more pragmatic or practical. We blindly believe and are prepared to battle for our beliefs.
Prejudiced one way or the other
We are all prejudiced one way or the other – as a result we align ourselves with one group or the other and criticize and denigrate those who are not with our group. This is the primary problem of “ism”. When we define a group that we are a part of, we are by default defining those who are not part of the group. And given our tendency to exalt ourselves, we place greater value on our group versus the non-group – we judge them and ridicule them by thinking of ourselves as superior. Their views, beliefs, attitudes are dismissed with total contempt.
This happens regardless of what ism we identify with. It is this “group bias” that gives rise to prejudice like nepotism, racism, sexism, nationalism, religious elitism, and other kinds of isms. Though these isms arise for different reasons they all share the bond of living their beliefs and convictions. They don’t just believe, they become what they believe – they live it. And that is dangerous.
Defend our beliefs at whatever cost
Beliefs by themselves are fine – we believe in the sun rising and setting, in water flowing and cats meowing and birds chirping. Some beliefs can also be changed under specific circumstances, but if we become what we believe in that makes us rigid and ready to defend ourselves and our beliefs at whatever cost.
Belief and convictions are powerful allies for us – having strong convictions allows us to be committed to them. But allowing our convictions to take over our identity and our self to the exclusion of logic, rationality and clear thinking could prove disastrous. It will probably be better to believe in things and use our beliefs to act in ways that effect positive changes rather than get entangled in deciding which ism we wish to incorporate in our lives.