humanityPeople are petty and childish and immature.

No matter how grown-up and sophisticated and intelligent and important a person might be, they always have their days when they act like idiots. They are rash and illogical. They base opinions on the briefest of first impressions. They equate others with their reputation, or their friends, or a single view they hold. They make assumptions.

Everybody does. Kings and presidents and prime ministers do it. Your parents do it. Your friends do it. You do it.

This comes from the human brain’s instinct to sort things into groups. It’s a useful habit that helps us remember things. It helps us know how to react to things that seem similar to past experiences. It was immensely valuable back when our brains couldn’t comprehend those little differences. It still makes life easier today.

But it is also what makes people discriminate.

It encourages prejudice. It makes people treat others differently for no real reason. When it is stoked, it can be what makes people hate each other. It incites the gut feeling that makes normal people justify war against innocent human beings they have never met.

They stop seeing those human beings. Instead, they see the one negative characteristic they have and nothing else. They let the one thing that they disagree with eclipse all the other things that make up a complete person, with interests and hobbies and feelings.

They see ideals that do not fit with their own, and they let their rage block out everything else. It causes war and murder and pain. It causes conflict that is not necessary. It causes problems that could have been prevented if those involved had taken the time to sit down and discuss things – not as figureheads of a movement, but only as people.

People hate foreign people. Or people who are from a different area of the same city. Because they behave differently, because they look different, because they worship differently. People hate political parties that oppose theirs. People hate other people who are different.

If people could look beyond the one thing they disagree with, they would see the humanity beneath. They would appreciate that their prejudice is hurting a living, breathing human being, who does not know why they are being tormented for their views. Or choices. Or birth place. Or habits. Or lifestyle. Or gender. Or religion. Or skin colour. Or sexual orientation.

It is the simplest thing to do, to try to get to know someone properly before you judge them. It is not hard to ask someone politely how their day has been, regardless of your argument.

If they tell you to get stuffed when you’re trying to be nice, then judge them on that behaviour. Assume that they are the kind of person who refuses to look for the goodness in others, and don’t worry about them. It has nothing to do with your disagreement.

But it is a problem that is easily solved, especially on a small scale.

Look through yourself for your own prejudices. Even if you are a perfect beacon of moral integrity towards the people most commonly abused, think about your politics. Most people hate politicians from time to time, and it’s easy to equate their supporters with that view.

See how easy it is to get past once you get to know them. Take someone who thinks differently to you out to lunch. You can try to understand their view if you want, but what is more important is seeing them as a person. Talk about things that have nothing to do with that view. Don’t bring up your disagreement if you don’t want to. Talk about their family, their favourite games and food and books and films. See the person behind the opinion. See the things you have in common.

No one expect Gaza and Palestine to sit down over coffee and manage to sort out all their problems.

But if more people looked at each other and saw individuals instead of getting upset about their harmless, personal habits and thoughts, the world would have a lot less to worry about. People would be less aggressive if they tried to understand that. Problems on all ends of the scale would be solved quicker and with more compassion.

There is humanity behind every outburst.

You just have to look for it.

Kirstie Summers,

Daily Zen.