By: Susan Pye Brokaw, Founder of Adlerian Network
This article is not about any one type of discrimination, but discrimination in general. There has been discrimination all through the years as far back as biblical times. The Bible says that we are made in God’s image. God has value and worth; so, do we all. Yet discrimination is still going on. People have been discriminated against for their nationality, religion, race, disability, physical appearance, and social status to name some. All discrimination is WRONG. Why doesn’t it stop? Maybe it is because we are not looking at the root cause.
Adler said that we are all valuable, worthwhile people who are therefore equal and deserve to be treated with respect. He also suggested that people develop beliefs about themselves and others before the age of six. Some of those beliefs are mistaken. One of the biggest mistakes is about the worth of oneself or others.
What are some of those beliefs? A most common one is, “I am not worthwhile, or I am not worthwhile enough.” Another is when children mistakenly decide that some are worthwhile, and others are not. Adler suggested that those children did not understand that worth is innate, unchangeable and it is about who they are.
People are worthwhile no matter what they do or what happens to them in life. Everyone knows that about small children. Worth is separate from behavior. It is changeable. There is good behavior and bad behavior. Bad behavior can be corrected but worth is permanent. Bad behavior does not make people worthless and other people’s bad behavior toward some people does not make those people less than worthwhile.
A common mistaken belief of those who discriminate is, there are those who are superior and those who are inferior. Adler coined the terms, inferiority complex and superiority complex. No one wants to feel inferior. If people believe that they are inferior to others in any way, they mistakenly accept it as true, or look for a way to become superior to someone else. They believe they are either better than others or less than others. They believe that if they are superior to someone, they will have more worth.
The person who is mistaken thinks, “I may be inferior to these folks but I’m superior to you”. “If I have power over you then I am superior to you and more worthwhile”. “If I can show you that I am better than you are, that I am superior to you, then I will be more worthwhile or totally worthwhile.” “It makes me better that I am bigger than you, whiter than you, have more power than you, have more money than you, are a better gender than you, have a better job, house or car than you, have more friends than you, have better grades than you, are brighter than you, have more ability in some area than you or have more of anything than you.” Isn’t that the truth about the school bully or bullies of any age?
Because these beliefs develop so early in life people don’t consciously realize their mistake. They believe in their reality.
How is discrimination eliminated? People have been saying it’s wrong for centuries and discrimination is still going on. Maybe the real problem should be addressed.
People need to be taught that they are worthwhile just for being who they are. They must be totally convinced of that to change their belief. Only when they fully value themselves as worthwhile can they consider that others are worthwhile as well. When they understand that worthwhile people misbehave, make mistakes, do things that are very wrong, they can also believe it of themselves and others. It is behavior that is bad, not people.
This must be taught to children because discrimination starts in childhood. It must be taught to parents and teachers because their children are watching them and learning their mistaken beliefs. It must be taught to everyone.
When discrimination is encountered, it must be realized that the mistaken belief must be challenged because these people don’t understand that they are worthwhile no matter what and their worth doesn’t come from being better than someone else. They aren’t better if they have more money, more power, a higher position, a bigger house or a better job, nor are others. In their mistaken belief, there will ALWAYS be someone who is more worthwhile than they are. Tomorrow that person may discriminate against them and some time back someone probably did discriminate against them.
Those who are discriminated against or discriminate need to know that it is wrong and why it happens. They must understand that it is not about them but about their mistaken belief or the mistaken beliefs of the person doing the discriminating. They must understand that no one has the power to make them less than worthwhile. They will only feel less than worthwhile if they believe that others have that power. Help them understand that they must not let anyone convince them that they are less worthwhile or not worthwhile. They are equal to everyone else in worth. There are others just like them that can be held up as examples.
Therapists must brainwash their clients with the truth. They must convince their clients that, “You are worthwhile no matter what”. “You are a valuable human being”. “You don’t need to change who you are; you only need to change your belief and your bad behavior and become the best at being you”. “No one can take away your worth”.
Until every person recognizes that they are totally worthwhile no matter what, there will be discrimination.
Everyone must know this and focus on this if discrimination is to be eliminated.