Matthew 7:1-2a – Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged. (NIV)
The class was discussing argumentation, and I mentioned that bias is often encountered when trying to persuade others to accept one's point of view. "Are bias and prejudice the same thing?" a student asked.
Caught off guard, I read the dictionary's definitions: Bias is prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another. Prejudice is a preconceived opinion, not based on reason or actual experience.
The dictionary and I had collaborated in creating more confusion. "Well, if the dictionary says bias is prejudice, doesn't that mean that prejudice is bias?" someone asked. Students love to stump teachers, and I was stumped.
Seeking an escape, I pointed out that, of the two terms, more negative connotations are associated with prejudice because it often refers to one person's tendency to dislike another person because of his religious beliefs, race, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and so on.
Realizing that I was getting nowhere and relieved that the class was about to end, I challenged the students to clear up the confusion by writing an essay about an experience in their lives involving prejudice or bias.
As it turned out, the kids did a much better job of differentiating between the two terms than I did.
One girl defined prejudice by relating an incident in which prejudice and lack of prejudice were juxtaposed. She wrote about a family picnic. With blankets spread under a shade tree, they were enjoying themselves, when an old man ambled up and sat on a nearby bench. His long, white hair was uncombed, his beard was streaked with tobacco stains, and his clothes were ragged and filthy. Disgusted by his dishevelled appearance, all the picnickers ignored him. All, that is, except Robert, the student's baby brother. Man and toddler couldn't take their eyes off each other.
"Hello, big boy — what's your name?" the bum asked. Robert grinned toothlessly. Then, the two began exchanging peek-a-boos. The picnic's jovial atmosphere faded.
As the adults began preparation for leaving, the old man walked over to the baby. Before anyone could grab him, Robert crawled toward him, and the old man picked him up.
The parents were stunned — not only because their defenceless baby was in the arms of an unkempt stranger, but also because boy and man showed instant affection for one another. The old man's eyes became moist as the child tugged his whiskers. Gently, he patted Robert's back, gave him a kiss, and walked toward his mother.
"Ma'am, this is a mighty fine boy," the stranger said. "Thank you for allowing me to hold him." While handing him over, Robert held tightly to the old man, whose eyes closed as he savoured the precious moment.
The student's essay ended with this comment:
- Sometimes, prejudice is an instant, unfounded reaction to another person. That is so wrong! Whereas my parents and I had instantly disliked the old man, my brother bonded with him, human to human. When confronted with prejudice or bias, we should all become as little children.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach us to remain true to courageous ideals and yet to be tolerant of those whose outward appearance indicates failure and cowardice. Help us to understand that the souls of such people are as worthy in Your eyes as any other soul. Amen.