Mind Matters — Prejudices, Past and Present

I remember as a child watching historical movies and, as fictionalized as they may have been, it became clear to me that the status quo didn’t change very much and that common beliefs held sway over evidence to the contrary.

Remember the time when people thought the sun revolved around the earth? Galileo, for showing otherwise, was ostracized from his faith for shaking its foundation. Pasteur, at first, didn’t fare any better for pointing out that what was invisible (to the eye at least) could make us sick.

However, as a child, I also wondered (only to myself, for fear of what the status quo might do), “well, if in those other ages, people had such a difficult time seeing a different reality and couldn’t expand their perspective, what are people in my own time doing that is constricted in vision as well?” Well, my words weren’t exactly that, but as a nine-year-old, I did also question myself: “What will I as an 11-year-old think of my nine-year-old’s thinking and doing? How will I change my attitude? What will I see differently (or more clearly)?”

As a 50’s child, I looked around and wondered why there were African-Americans (“Negroes”) on only one street of my town. Why didn’t they belong to the swim club located right on their block? The swim club that got built post-polio vaccine (thank you Pasteur) where my cousins became fish (my parents hadn’t the money to join). Then the civil rights movement came, and I understood: again narrow thinking and the prejudice of narrow perspective.

I remember my aunt commenting about the white mother of five children who had been murdered by white men for having marched for civil rights in the South. My aunt unempathically stated that the mother should have stayed home and had no right being there. Not unemotional myself, I ran out of the room screaming into the street, bereft at the callousness of the words of someone I loved.

I do not wish to set myself up as the enlightened one. My 11-year-old was aghast at some of the thinking of the nine-year-old and surely my 83-year-old (if I get that far) will wonder at the perspective of my 63-year-old self.

However, at this moment, my 63-year-old self wonders if we have had a major societal regression. It was painful for Earth’s people to be knocked off center stage when Galileo galloped in: “what do you mean, the sun is the center of the solar system? We on earth are the center of the universe.” Further corollaries: “We in the U.S. are the best and the brightest and the biggest.” “I, the person, am the center of my own universe evolutionary connectedness? No way, DNA!” Somehow, we seem to be going pre-Galilean here.

Hence, we don’t see the interconnectedness of our lives; we don’t get that tribal “us and them” will do us in. I cringe that the tissues in my office are manufactured from a virgin boreal forest in Canada. I sigh when a younger acquaintance goes to Alaska and comes back figuring there’s a lot of space there so what’s the big deal about clearcutting those virgin forests? I deplore the heated conversation I had with some elderly women who are affluent and on Medicare. These women decry why they should worry about those other people “who could get healthcare if they wanted it or shouldn’t be in this country in the first place.” (These latter folks clean their houses and pick their vegetables.) Need I remind them that my family, years ago, had an incredibly difficult time getting health insurance because our seven-year-old son had a “pre-existing condition”—recurrent ear infections!

Yes, I am a psychologist who “should” be talking about the latest book I’ve read to help you with your panic attacks. Well, we are suffering a collective panic disorder from believing that life can be controlled as long as we keep our collective walls up and believe that rugged individualism is not for sissies—and sissies are those who might be “socialist”(!) because they recognize the interconnectedness of nature and people.

Interestingly ironic how corporations, including, if not especially, the health care corporations, manage to be for the individuals at the top and yet are considered “one body”—a “corpus”.

I have encountered health insurance corporations as a provider, and as a patient. As a provider, my experiences with insurers have been frustrating—late payments, no payments, terminating treatment, etc. My experience as a consumer is also frustrating. In a few years, I will be eligible for Medicare but my adult children become the worry—what will happen if they lack healthcare for some reason—lack or loss of a job or yet another “pre-existing” condition. This is far scarier than the bugaboo word socialism that gets bandied about whenever the common good is at stake. Here is a quote to ponder, from Dom Helder Camara (1909—1999), who was Roman Catholic Archbishop of Brazil: "When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry [or lack healthcare] they call me a communist [or socialist].”