I sensitise others to be open and without prejudice, but I am full of intolerance and prejudices myself.
Everyone grows up with a certain set of beliefs. Beliefs are views and opinions about yourself and others, and the world itself. They are shaped by the people that surround you, the media, and your personal experiences. They determine what you think is good or bad, normal or abnormal, your opinions about other people and different cultures – your prejudices.
Your beliefs help you to navigate the world in an efficient way. Imagine if you would need to make sense of everything every time. It would take too much energy! However, some of them can become barriers to your relationships and eventually your own health and happiness and the wellbeing of others. These are some of my intolerances and prejudices:
It’s hard for me to tolerate different views
I was born in Germany to parents who grew up in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Although this sounds like the perfect background for learning how to tolerate different views, I was brought up believing that there was only one right way to do things. Everything else was wrong.
But since there were more than a couple of different and even contradicting views in my surroundings, I lived in a constant state of confusion and insecurity.
It took me many years to learn that different or even contradicting ways to think, and see and do things could peacefully co-exist, and even be enriching. However, it’s still not easy for me to tolerate other views, especially when my core values are challenged.
Facing prejudices and having prejudices towards others
My parents were always very proud of their origins. For my father, it has always been clear that China will be (again) the most powerful country in the world. For my German environment it was clear that I was coming from an underdeveloped third-world country.
My Taiwanese mother had to learn the world’s history and geology by heart. The average German had only heard about her country of origin in the context of cheap everyday objects.
As a result, I felt ashamed of “my origins”.
My maths teacher was happy about my excellent results. Therefore, he started a conversation with me. He asked which Chinese restaurant my family was running. He became quiet when I told him that my father had a PhD in nuclear physics and worked for Siemens, and that my mother was a studied nurse.
But despite having experienced prejudices myself, I have also internalised prejudices myself:
- When I worked at the European Central Bank and collaborated with a colleague from “poor” and “underdeveloped” Romania, I was surprised how perfect his English was and how smart and well educated he was.
- When I travelled to “poor” Benin and talked to locals on a conference, I was constantly concerned that people would want to take advantage of me, because I was coming from “rich” Germany. This was actually never the case. On the contrary, I got inspired by the energy of the people!
How I became more tolerant and reduced my prejudices
Tolerance is a skill that can be learned
When I started my own business, it was an economic necessity to be able to handle different views in a positive and professional way. I was lucky to join an organisation for young entrepreneurs and leaders – Junior Chamber International (JCI) – which provided me with countless trainings and opportunities to learn and practice the desired skill in a practical, fun and playful way.
Unlearn prejudices by getting in contact with people
I was able to let go of many prejudices by meeting and working with people from around the world. Having the luxurious possibility to travel the world and live in different countries, also helped me to learn about things apart from the compressed and selective media at home.
Through the mental illness of my brother, I learned that everyone can be affected and that the difference between being healthy or ill is gradual.
Being intolerant and having prejudices is human
Since I have experienced myself how limiting intolerances and prejudices are, I want to believe that I am an open and tolerant person. Therefore, whenever I am confronted with my challenges to be tolerant and my own prejudices, I feel very ashamed. But hey, we are humans and humans aren’t perfect!
Tolerance can be learned, and there are measures that you can take to support diversity and the reduction of prejudices.