I can’t tell you the exact moment when I became aware of my own mortality. But I can tell you that I was never more afraid of dying than when, as a small child in the late 1980s, I first saw a TV spot for the public health campaign Don’t Die of Ignorance.

I didn’t know who John Hurt was. But his voice became the voice of death. I didn’t know what AIDS stood for. All I knew was that it was terrifying and it wanted to kill me.

This mental scar must have remained with me because even until my late 20s the very mention of AIDS or HIV would make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Unfortunately, this advert was perhaps too effective; so afraid was I of this creeping menace that despite being sexually active in my later teens and twenties I never once got myself tested. You see, I was too afraid that it might come back positive!

I should add a disclaimer here; I am not now, nor have I ever been more than averagely successful with the ladies. I had no particular reason to imagine that I was any more at risk than the average man of my age. But nor have I always been a saint. So the responsible thing would have been to have the test. Right? That’s what we all should do. But I didn’t dare. I was playing “If I can’t see you then you can’t see me” with an STD. Then fate intervened.

Due to an arthritic condition, I was to be given a new drug that required a full viral screening. This included HIV, the various hepatitises, etc. No avoiding it this time. If I had fallen prey to John Hurt’s deathly curse I was about to find out. On the day I was due to get my results I had a knot in my stomach. I sat down with the doctor, he looked over my papers, and breezily said “so that’s all fine then”.

We all have these creeping fears that we shove aside and try to ignore

I felt a weight lift off of me like someone removing a sodden towel from around my shoulders. All these years I’d been just a little afraid of something that had never happened. It was only with some reflection that I realised how silly that was. And how common. After all, we all have these creeping fears that we shove aside and try to ignore. Maybe that’s why so many of us struggle to sleep at night. That’s when the mind rests and the skeletons clamber out from their closets to pester us.

The moral of the story? In the long run, it’s far easier to face your fears than to hide from them. Which brings me to how racist you are.

No, not you specifically. But yes, you. And that guy from the office. Yep; him too. And his wife. And she always seemed so nice. Which, of course, she probably is! You see, as they sing in Avenue Q; everyone’s a little bit racist.

As they sing in Avenue Q; everyone’s a little bit racist.Click To Tweet

But it get’s worse. You’re also sexist. And you’re ageist. From time to time you’re xenophobic (which would be easier to avoid if people would just go back to where they came from, right?) and don’t get me started about how you feel about trans people. My word!

If you’re human then you’re prejudiced

You see, if you’re human then you’re prejudiced. You can’t not be because it’s inherent in how your brain works. The part of your brain capable of reasoned thought is hundreds of times slower than the part that reacts based on incomplete data. Some call this the reptilian brain or the chimp brain. The point is that at any given moment you’re probably making an unfair judgment about someone or something based on assumptions or preconceptions. It’s perfectly natural.

Of course, that is not the same as saying it’s good. Okra is perfectly natural but nobody will ever convince me that it’s not essentially immoral. So what I’m saying is not that it’s OK to be prejudiced but that it’s not something you can be blamed for. What you can be blamed for, however, is being in denial.

At any given moment you’re probably making an unfair judgment about someone

You see, there are people out there who say things like “I’m probably the least racist person you’ll ever meet.” or “nobody has more respect for women than I do.” or “I have a great relationship with the blacks, I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.” Some of these people might even be President of the United States of America. And these people, you see, are a lot like me when I was too afraid to get an HIV test. They think if they don’t acknowledge the possibility then it will all just go away. Well, it won’t. And until they acknowledge it, until they admit it to themselves, they can’t actually do anything about it.

Which is where AA comes in. No, not the roadside repairs people. I’m talking about Alcoholics Anonymous. The ones who give out special coins and free biscuits.

You see, AA has a system that’s designed to help people who are addicted to booze. And a fundamental part of that system is realising that you’re an addict and that you cannot change that. That’s why you’re never an ex-alcoholic. You’re always a recovering one. I think we can learn a lot from them so I’ve adapted their Twelve Steps for recovering alcoholics to help those recovering from prejudice. There’s now only ten steps because I took out the ones that were entirely about God.

  1. We admit that we are prejudiced
  2. We accept that a greater power than ourselves (our chimp brain) is responsible for our prejudices
  3. We make a decision to accept ourselves and forgive ourselves for our prejudices
  4. We make a searching and fearless inventory of our prejudices
  5. We admit to ourselves, and to others the exact nature of our prejudices, and in so doing free them to do the same
  6. We make a list of all persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all
  7. We make direct amends to such people wherever possible
  8. We continue to take personal inventory, and when we are prejudiced, promptly admitted it
  9. We seek to be more mindful of our true motivations and improve our conscious contact with humanity
  10. Having had a personal awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to all those suffering from prejudice, and to practice these principles in all of our affairs

So say it with me.

I (say your name) harbour countless prejudices of which I am ashamed.

I’ve adapted the Twelve Steps for recovering alcoholics to help those recovering from prejudiceClick To Tweet

Well done. You just took your first step. How did it feel? Good? It should do because it’s only through clear self-knowledge that we can ever really improve ourselves.

As a performance coach, I know that the hard part of change is seeing the problem. I mean really seeing it. Most of the time it takes a good few passes to get to the heart of the issue. This is especially true if the problem has a moral component to it. Which is a surprisingly common! Just this morning I was discussing how time management should be entirely a practical question, something to solve with simple adjustments in behaviour. But think about how you feel about time management. Notice any twinges of guilt or pangs of avoidance? For many people, there’s a great deal of moral judgment attached to people who are poor at managing their time. Lateness is rudeness, after all!

At any given moment you’re probably making an unfair judgment about someone

So it’s no doubt that in our culture which rightly calls for an end to racism, sexism, Arsene Wenger, and all sorts of other problems that should have gone away long ago, just admitting that you are prejudiced is an heroic act. But once you’ve done that you can actually begin to make progress. Simply seeing the truth of it will help you to tackle those moments when prejudice strikes.

Also, while it may seem distasteful to try to understand someone who is being racist or sexist or homophobic, only understanding can change things. If you’ve genuinely looked inside yourself and seen your own prejudices you’ll be better equipped to respond when someone else displays theirs.

As we draw towards the mid-point of Diversity & Divergency it’s useful to rest the mind on this thought; there will never be a world free from prejudices. We won’t ever do away with hate. Part of being truly diverse is in accepting that people will always think differently to one another. The point here is not to aim for a state of purity everlasting but to find a healthier way to deal with this never-ending journey.

https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/alittlebitracist.jpg?fit=1024%2C576https://i1.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/alittlebitracist.jpg?resize=150%2C150Aran ReesDiversity & Divergencyageism,aids,alcoholics anonymous,avenue q,ignorance,okra,prejudice,racism,sex,sexism
I can’t tell you the exact moment when I became aware of my own mortality. But I can tell you that I was never more afraid of dying than when, as a small child in the late 1980s, I first saw a TV spot for the public health campaign...
Aran Rees
Founder and Coach at Sabre Tooth Panda
Aran is a creativity coach, facilitator and communicator, founder of Sabre Tooth Panda and creator of No Wrong Answers: the hypothetical quiz. He believes that expressing creativity is all about how you and those around you relate to creativity both at an emotional and intellectual level. He helps his clients to get cosy with creativity to solve big problems and have more fun.