Everything Provides Insights
While the road to greater awareness begins with the deceptively simple decision to be more open and openly curious, there is one particular practice that I highly recommend as you proceed with this book and go through your daily life. Pay attention to how you react to the various stimuli you encounter.
Every idea, every person, and every interaction provides an opportunity to observe how we react to life in its infinite expressions. When we pay close attention, we may notice that our reactions are expressions of our fears, desires, and predispositions. Like a Geiger counter or a divining rod, our reactions provide critical clues at every step. If certain concepts, beliefs, situations, or people rub us the wrong way—more than might reasonably be expected, or more than they affect others—we should see it as an opportunity to wonder why. What's going on in our subconscious that we're not fully aware of? What in our background might explain such a reaction?
While it's hard to see what we can't see, we can be sensitive to the responses and associations those ideas and experiences trigger. We can also ask our friends and family what they think about how we interact with the world, since they observe us from unique vantage points.
Don't limit this practice to adverse reactions. It also pays to ask why we're extremely fond of someone or why we crave something. And if the reaction, whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, is especially strong, there is probably even more gold to be discovered on that trail.
As you embark on this journey of discovery, feel free to experiment. Consider trying things you might not normally do, and watch how you respond. For example, give up TV or other electronic obsessions for a week; take different routes to work; try out various exercise routines; compliment people more often; tell the important people in your life how much they mean to you; learn to speak a new language; take up a musical instrument; travel to exotic places. And exotic places need not be far away; you can start by spending time with people who are nearby but seem to be very different from you. Visit diverse restaurants, churches, and neighborhoods. The list is endless, and so are the lessons you stand to learn.
Play detective. You may notice that the very contemplation of change initiates a reaction, and not necessarily a comfortable one. What does that mean? What are you afraid of? What does it feel like? What does it remind you of? Where did it come from? If you approach each of the insights, implications, and applications that follow with curiosity, you'll observe that there are many veils to part and doors to open. And still more behind those. If you're ready to let the light in, there's no adventure more exciting...or rewarding.
Our Perspective Is De Facto Limited and Distorted
"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
I grew up in Boston, in a poor, working-class neighborhood. On one side of my street were triple-deckers (multifamily apartment buildings), and on the other side was the public housing we called "the projects." I lived in one of the triple-deckers, but most of the kids were in the projects, so that's where we played. It was a melting pot of white and black, mostly Christian, plus a few Jews like me. But that's not how I categorized the other kids. I divided everyone up based on whether or not they were fun and friendly.'
'When I was twelve, we moved to another blue-collar neighborhood. This one was all white, and I was the only Jewish kid. For the first time in my life, I experienced anti-Semitism. I no longer felt welcome. It was weird and uncomfortable, and I looked for friends elsewhere. Prejudice was a new experience for me, and it didn't make any sense. It certainly didn't seem fair.
Years later I realized that anti-Semitism is just one example of people being fearful of others whom they perceive to be different, whether because of religion, nationality, age, education, political preferences, or other factors. The irony is that Jews have a word for "the others." It's goyim. I had always heard that word, but it wasn't until I was on the receiving end of prejudice that I saw it for what it really was.