“A solitary dream can transform a million realities. The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious, but the desire to reach hearts is wise”. Maya Angelo
Mindfulness is at the heart of happiness studies in Positive Psychology (PP) which are at an increasing rate now more than ever; busier lives, more toxic environments, more stress, demands ways people can maintain meaningful lives and flourish within such atrocities. The birth PP movement pioneered by psychologists such as Seligman et.al., provide evidence on how people may lead happy flourishing lives despite their challenges by engaging positive psychology interventions (PPI). While such studies still lack focus on how people can manage challenges of stress related to racism, amongst some of the PPI mindfulness shows potential in combating prejudice based on race.
Bringing in the dialogue:
Narratives are powerful; they connect us to the past, present and the future. It is through a story that our lives can be transformed as we learn from our experiences. It is a story that can create visions to make a difference in the world. My story told through my book ‘My Life in England’ helped to position my experiences and transformed my way of thinking especially in race issues. This book is a memoire detailing the chronicles of my journey from Lesotho to England. Amongst other challenges, it highlights significantly the cultural shock and reality of racial discrimination and prejudice. Being someone, whose life was enriched by the power of diversity, it came as a very uncomfortable reality. Nonetheless, helped me to grow, and think deeply about how power and love can be employed to effect ‘social change’. Anger and bitterness are both positive and negative emotions, the choice was to take positive action while observing and acknowledging the emotions. This road of trials created a vision and an opportunity to have a voice that will add to other ‘voices’. Somehow through the darkness of my journey energy was relinquished to realise my purpose in life. The purpose pursued through study and research in PP.
The article reflects both personal experiences twined with research in understanding obstacles of a divided humanity. It is with excitement and vision to share a deep passion for conversations that may bring some openness as we become more ‘mindful of our co-existence. The possibility of coming together, connectivity of humanity can add value to a society torn by hateful ignorance. Isn’t it our humanity that binds us? Science teaches that there is only one race-the ‘human race’, and yet humanity is so broken! Could ‘mindfulness’ help to connect the similarity of our humanity and add to our well-being?
Phrase’s like ‘variety is the spice of life’, are common to our daily lives, and yet we are crippled by un-profound hatred towards ‘another’ for no reason except they do not look like us? We do this automatically without thought to our actions. Have you ever stopped and given a thought or attention to what influences your response to people, situations, etc? Do you turn to practice ‘knee-jerk’ reactions and judge someone based on what society through media has taught you? How does the negative reactions or judgements about the other make you feel? Despite all the social and technological advances of our time the tendency of humans to discriminate on the basis of difference continues. Research posits that race and ethnicity are social constructions and not biological facts, and yet racism continues to play as a human divide. The historic construction of positive images of ‘white’ people and negative images of ‘Black’ people affirms the way we see each other. It is only human to react or judge another person you have no knowledge of because they belong to another ‘tribe’ (out-group). While these reactions can be based on various aspects of life; manner of dress, education, disability, sexual-orientation, and not limited only to discrimination based on ‘racial divide’, the content focuses its attention on race & racism. The complexity of judgment based on race and racism has far damaging effects to well-being above and beyond stressors such as acculturation and poverty, drug and substance abuse, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and strokes. It is with this evidence from research that the key subject on mindfulness focuses on issues of race & racism.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being aware or conscious of one’s thoughts and emotional responses to experience. It involves ability to self-regulate both positive and negative emotions. It helps one to focus on adopting a neutral or non-judgmental attitude towards experiences in the present moment. Studies point that a collective consciousness of society is imperative in creating racism awareness. Listening to the ‘other’ with regard and no judgement despite the sensitivity of the subject. If we remain silent, how can we bring positive change? The dialogues we hold could be geared to opening discussions about who the ‘other’ is instead of making assumptions.
Majority of mindfulness studies within positive psychology are channelled to many areas; mindful-eating, meditation, etc. Not much presently explores how mindfulness may help us understand racism especially ‘silent-racism’. Many studies point that people are scared to address their prejudices, choosing ‘silence’ in matters of racism. Also that “Whites Label Blacks as aggressive, hostile, violent, and criminal”. If this is what you have been taught about a group of people, and choose not to approach them with openness, these beliefs live on. Usually people will react to these believes mostly unconsciously or as a choice not to know or understand. Think deeply about what you think about the ‘other’ and where your interpretation comes from. Instead of denying that you have prejudice, take a moment and think about your identity, and how this affects how you see the ‘other’. One writer highlighted how systemic and social constructs of racism perpetuate little cross-ethnic socialising, so we continue to make assumptions about the ‘other’ while the ‘one’ remains unaware of their racist perspectives. When sitting around the table with your family/friends, do you consciously listen to your words of judgement; do you stop your loving family from making blanket negative comments about ‘another’?
With shock I read an article; ‘Looking death-worthy’. The authors were highlighting how Black people have harsher sentences even for minor crimes, and more likely to be jailed without profound evidence. These same people are a brother, father, sister, uncle, etc-not just another black person whose humanity doesn’t matter. Unless we consciously step into the spaces of people ‘we shouldn’t even know’- bringing the unconscious to the conscious, unkindness will prevail. It is interesting to note that even people who exhibit racial insults consider themselves as good and generally kind too. Most people are good people, the kind who will go out of their way to help a stranger in trouble regardless of their race. We can see how complex racism plays out, and why we cannot afford to be ‘silent’. Being mindful of the experiences of the ‘other’ can enhance perspective taking which leads to kindness, and human connections. Perhaps by changing the perspective of living in separate ways, as if ‘we should not even know each other’, we can develop healthy connections and reciprocal relationships across race.
How can society navigate challenges related to racial discrimination by the victims as well as the perpetrator?
If you have not had a close relationship with a person of another race, you only judged them in line with what you learn via social media. Social media portrays mostly exaggerated ‘negative images’ of Black people. Even though a lot has changed to embrace diversity, there is still limited appreciation of embracing the reality of discrimination. In every sector, organisation, schools, and health, these voices are still silenced. It is time to face reality and walk boldly towards our differences instead of being afraid and holding only to political correctness and tolerance. Eliminating ‘colour-blindness’ philosophy which is a pretence as we can all see colour. Let us speak truthfully about race/racism.
Mindfulness can help us to have an openness to difficult conversations such as; ‘Black-life matter’, ‘white privilege’, etc. Deeper narrative behind these can be explored. It is important to bring these dialogues together to create understanding and awareness of ‘other’ experience.
Lessons from Hero’s:
Mandela is embraced globally for his message of love of humanity. He showed us that we are all born with ability not to hate, that hate is learned so it can be unlearned. Mandela took perspective to be mindful of how he would change history of apartheid in South Africa. The world watched while he changed history of discrimination.
About the author: Ntsoaki Mary Mosoeunyane is a senior lecturer in health studies, with an MSc in Positive Psychology (MAPP), has a keen interest in research looking at PP perspectives in issues of race & racism. Hope & vision to create harmony in diversity through education forums is the dream!
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