Enemy images and prejudices.
Evtushenko M. 11
Dehumanization is the process whereby
opponents view each other as less than human and thus not deserving of humane
treatment or what are generally accepted as fundamental human rights. It is
necessary, psychologically, to so categorize the enemy if it is to be possible
to engage in warfare or otherwise violate the generally accepted norms of
behavior regarding one's fellow man.
Dehumanization is actually an
extension of a less intense process of developing an "enemy image" of the
opponent. An enemy image is a stereotype - a negative oversimplification -
which usually views the opposing group as evil, in contrast to one's own side,
which is seen as entirely well. Enemy images are usually black and white.
Shades of gray (meaning one's own faults or one's enemies' values) are usually
discounted, denied, or ignored.
This is accentuated, according to
psychologists, by the process of "projection"-in which people "project" their
own faults onto their opponents. This means that people or groups who tend to
be aggressive or selfish are likely to attribute those traits to their
opponents, but not to themselves. This improves one's own self-image and group
cohesion, but it also escalates the conflict and makes it easier to dehumanize
the other side.
While the formation of enemy images is
very common, it is a dangerous process that becomes especially so when it
reaches the level of dehumanization. Once the enemy is considered to be less
than human, it becomes psychologically acceptable to engage in genocide or
other atrocities such as those that occurred in Rwanda, Cambodia, and the
The term "prejudice" refers to
stereotypes which lead parties to view their opponents as threatening
adversaries who are inherently inferior or are actively pursuing immoral
objectives. Such prejudices lead the parties to view others as enemies who
must be actively opposed. This results in a persistent level of destructive
tension which can easily escalate into a highly destructive, all-out
Prejudice reduction refers to a
collection of techniques designed to break down these destructive stereotypes.
Most often prejudice reduction programs take place on small scale-in
workshops, for example, which bring together people from different groups to
help them develop a better mutual understanding. At times, efforts are made to
reduce prejudice among the general population. This can be done with
widespread media efforts or public education programs, often implemented
during the grade school years.
In both small scale and large scale
efforts, a first step which is critical to the success of these programs is an
ability to overcome the many communications problems cited elsewhere in this
training program. This is because a great deal of prejudice arises from simple
misunderstandings and the tendency to make worse case assumptions in the
absence of reliable information. At the workshop level, facilitators can help
people explore their stereotypes, and learn to communicate with each other in
a more open, trusting, and receptive way. At the community or societal level,
misunderstandings can be addressed through carefully crafted public media
campaigns and/or education programs designed to counter common stereotypes and
present all groups in their best possible light.
Still, correcting poor communication
may is not usually enough to overcome prejudice. Better communication may
simply prove that the parties do, in fact, hold each other in mutual contempt,
or that they are, indeed, trying to undermine each others interests. Often
such hostility is the result of escalation processes which transform
relatively minor provocations into intense confrontations. For this reason
strategies for limiting escalation are also an essential component of
effective prejudice reduction. This also can be attempted in workshop settings
or at the larger, community level.
Positive Responses to Prejudice and
Understanding the nature of prejudice,
scapegoat, stereotypes, and discrimination is the first step in combating
these practices. All of us have prejudices about members of groups different
from ourselves. We should, however, recognize that we are not acting fairly if
we treat people differently because of these stereotypes and prejudices. Each
one of us deserves to be considered a unique human being.
Unintentional Prejudicial Actions.
These types of actions do not allow
the observer to really know the intentions of a person. They are actions that
are automatic and not decided upon by the individual at the moment of
behaving. They may be in agreement with or in disagreement with the
individual's intentions. Often, they are simple little slights that hurt
deeply but are not more than nasty habits that date back to the person's early
childhood. To read intention into these acts risks the stimulation of guilt,
denial and avoidance if the intention was not there in the first place. If the
action was an intentional prejudicial act, then change is not likely through a
With these situations it is far more
likely to be helpful to assume the action was not intentional. By doing this,
one can gently confront the behavior and not the person in a way that will
tend to maintain the relationship. This will reduce the likelihood of
stimulating guilt and avoidance.