Enemy images and prejudices

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Enemy images and prejudices.

Evtushenko M. 11 “A”


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 former Yugoslavia.

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 confrontation.

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 Stereotypes

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 simple confrontation.

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.

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