Mind Matters: Why hate

Are there ways to dismantle hate? This question was addressed recently in the American Psychological Associate Monitor (January 2018).

Social psychology research aids in identifying both the factors that incite hostility and hatred, as well as those factors which have the opposite effect. While hatred of others is not new, "identifying ways to counter hate and unite people has been given new urgency…" the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) observes that in the United States over the past two decades, there has been a "sharp rise in hate groups", especially since 2015.

Despite this fact, there are ways to counteract this rise. One man, Daryl Davis, has been turning this tide by quietly encountering prejudice one person at a time. His quest began in 1983 when he was a black musician in an all-white bar. During a break between sets, a white man started talking and drinking with him. Then the man said that he had never done that before because he was a member of the KKK. Rather than responding fearfully, Davis was curious and asked, "How can you hate me if you don't even know me?" That conversation led to more conversations, to a friendship, and to the man relinquishing his KKK membership. That was the beginning of Davis' seeking the answer to his question with over one hundred KKK members with whom he shared musical or family events. He counts two-thirds of them as having left the KKK.

What Davis' work exemplifies, in psychological terms, is Contact Theory, developed by Gordon Allport many years ago. This theory is based on the observation that meaningful contact between two groups can "promote tolerance under certain conditions, such as having common goals."

I saw Contact Theory at work first hand when, years ago, we hosted a 9-year-old girl from Northern Ireland in a program call Project Children. The purpose was to bring together Protestant and Catholic youngsters, who only knew hatred and violence in their strife-torn country and give them an opportunity to play together. It worked. We saw how a frightened little girl who was terrified of fireworks and swimming pools gained confidence over the summer and was able to connect to the other children with play: at parks, picnics, and all sorts of activities. Similar programs are employed with Israeli and Palestinian children.

Both adults and children overcome a fear of others and prejudices when they recognize their commonalities — how they are alike rather than different. Psychologist Ervin Straub explains that "at its essence, prejudice is about believing some groups have more worth or value than others. Hostility toward a particular social group develops when that group becomes de-valued compared to others."

Also, conditions such as a "sluggish economy" can exacerbate the fear of other so that certain groups get scapegoated and blamed. For example, "the fear that immigrants will take...jobs is an oft-repeated refrain, despite evidence that shows the economic effects of immigration are positive over all."

Psychologist Susan Fiske relates that there are some people who are extremely tolerant of others' differences — just as those who are "deeply prejudicial." However, she goes on to say, many people exist somewhere in the "murky middle" and are extremely influenced by social norms. That is, these people's attitudes change according to what they see as "acceptable." Fiske says, "if we have leadership that isn't promoting inter-group tolerance, it sets the norms for the rest of society."

The antidote to change attitude goes back to Contact Theory. When people make a meaningful connection, prejudice and threat of other dissipate. This includes working together, playing together, volunteering together. Another way to promote tolerance is through entertainment! Where people watched sitcoms that showed "diverse, yet relatable Muslim characters," psychologist Markus Brauer showed that their biases went down. My spouse and I loved to watch the Canadian TV show, "Little Mosque on the Prairie" which was about the interaction of Muslims and Christians in a little town in Western Canada. It was funny but also poignant and poked holes in everyone's prejudices in a compassionate and caring way. We viewed it on DVD because no American station would broadcast this great show.

We all have implicit and explicit biases. However, the more conscious we become of our connections with others, and with the humanity of us all, the less biased we will be, and the more human we become!

[Material for this article was derived from "Dismantling Hate," by Kirsten Weir, APA Monitor on Psychology, January 2018.]

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or (610)388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine.

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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