The 10-year-old who committed suicide recently in a rural Illinois community came home from school the day before in tears. It wasn’t the first time.
Ashlynn Conner, a fifth-grader, had complained of bullying for two years. After the most recent episode, Ashlynn asked to be home-schooled and her mother promised to take her for a chat with the principal the following Monday. The next night, her older sister found her hanging by a scarf in her bedroom closet.
“It’s yet another example of the horrific things happening in our society because people still judge other people for everything but how they behave,” says Shay Dawkins, author of The Good News: How Revealing Delusions in Christianity Will Bring Peace to All (www.thegoodnewsbook.com), an analysis of the Bible that compares contemporary Christian values with scripture.
“We start forming biases at a very young age,” he notes. “Unfortunately, some people use even the Bible to justify judging others for circumstances those people didn’t choose.
These biases are often so ingrained, people aren’t aware they even have them. Change starts with each individual, Dawkins says.
Become aware of your personal biases. We all have them. Children start picking them up from family members, TV and others in their environment about the time they start walking. Studies have shown that as early as age 3, some toddlers are using words associated with racial prejudice! As evidenced by Ashlynn Conner’s devastating experience, by elementary school children may have acquired a grown-up set of biases that are manifest in taunts, jeers and other acts of bullying. See what biases you may have by taking the Hidden Bias Tests developed by psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington. Visit implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/
Hone your empathy skills. People who can empathize well are good at putting themselves in another person’s shoes. They may not agree with that person’s feelings, but they can understand them – sometimes they can actually feel what another person feels. Empathy helps us relate to others and erodes biases by pushing us beyond baseless preconceived notions. Some of us have to work harder at being empathetic than others. To work on your skills, ask yourself how your children, co-workers or spouse would describe you. Be honest! Would your children say you yell a lot? Would your spouse say you spend more time complaining about what he or she doesn’t do than acknowledging what he does? Empathy also helps us meet that gold standard of rules: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If you have a negative attitude, change it. If you tend to make negative comments or respond negatively when talking about or to certain groups of people, practice turning them into positives, even if it means following your negative with a positive. (Your friends should be only mildly confused at first.) Believe it or not, heart and mind often follow our spoken word and it’s a good way to start changing your attitude.
Dawkins says he wrote The Good News after a long study of the Bible made him realize that many Americans taking stands on divisive contemporary issues erroneously base their views on “Christian belief.”
“The message in the Bible, and probably other religions as well, is a positive one,” Dawkins says. “It doesn’t tell us to be cruel to people who are different from us, it tells us to embrace them – all of them.
“I’m not sure if peace on Earth is possible, but if everyone simply judged others on how they treat people – not on whether they’re gay, or Muslim, or black, or overweight, the world would be a happier place.”
About Shay Dawkins
Shay Dawkins is a Tuscaloosa, Ala., businessman who grew up in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. His observances about how Christianity can be divisive despite being based on one book led to his analysis of the Bible.