3 Important Ways Compassion Can Overcome Prejudice

We live in a culture rife with tribalism. Now more than ever, it’s incredibly easy to live in echo chambers, only listening to the voices you agree with. 

And it’s more than simply choosing what you want to hear. Algorithms are becoming smarter at predicting the kind of content you want to see in your social media feeds. So after you form certain ideological tendencies online, similar content keeps getting pushed to the top of your feed. So not only are we not listening to others with differing opinions–we simply cannot hear them.

And this clear separation between you and people different from you is the perfect breeding ground for prejudice. 

When you hear the word prejudice, you typically think about racism. And that unfortunately continues to be a major part of our culture. But what’s interesting about a year like 2020 is that it has seemed to cause our prejudice to become even more expansive than that. 

We have prejudice against people from different political parties. 

We have prejudice against people who feel differently about vaccines than we do. 

We have prejudice against people from churches with different theological distinctives than our own.

As we reinforce our echo chambers, our vision of those outside it becomes bleaker and more distorted. It makes sense, then, that the antidote to this prejudice is to move toward the “other,” rather than away.

The word compassion comes from a Latin compound word that literally means to “suffer with or alongside.” Sometimes it’s only when we see the suffering of others firsthand that we realize they aren’t so different from us after all. 

Here are 3 important ways that compassion can overcome prejudice.

1. Building personal connections humanizes the “other.” 

It’s so easy to dehumanize people when we only see them as a tiny avatar next to a name above their comment on social media. When you don’t see someone else’s humanity, it’s easy to make assumptions about who they are.

But when you take the time to make a personal connection with someone, you begin to see them as a person. Someone with a family. Someone with hopes and dreams, struggles and disappointments. Someone’s daughter or someone’s son. A human who has value.

Sometimes we hold certain prejudices against people we work with or attend church or school beside, based on what we’ve seen of their social media activity. If they stand on the opposite side of an important issue from us, our natural tendency is to assume they’re somehow a bad person. 

The best way to move past this prejudice is to be intentional about getting to know them. Suspend the assessment of their character that you may have hastily made when you saw them reshare an opinion piece that you found offensive. Learn about their family. Chat with their children. Ask about where they work and what hobbies they like. Let your guard down enough to make a genuine connection. 

When you get to that point of connection, you realize that you aren’t just railing against contrary ideas or a faceless member of the opposition. You’re railing against a person. And people deserve to be understood. 

That’s why Solomon says this. 

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

We’re really quick to express our own opinions. But we gain true understanding by connecting with other people and choosing to actually listen to them, rather than insulting or dismissing them.

When you make a personal connection with someone, you realize that you aren't just railing against contrary ideas. You're railing against a person. And people deserve to be understood. Click To Tweet

2. Listening to people’s stories creates empathy.

Everyone has a story. There is no person whose worldview is a mere collection of ideas that they arrived at dispassionately or apart from important moments of personal significance. When you listen to the stories of others, you hear why they believe certain things. 

And when you’re willing to simply be curious about someone’s story–especially someone you don’t agree with–what you’ll often find is that they aren’t as completely irrational, evil, or flat out stupid as you might have thought. 

Our stories inform how we see the world and what we believe. And those stories can be incredibly powerful. As you lean in to listen to those stories, you might be able to see your common humanity with those from a different tribe. 

In fact, you might even be able to empathize with where they’re coming from. You can feel for them and appreciate their perspective. And while that doesn’t mean that you agree with the conclusions they’ve drawn, you can at least understand them. Having a different view from them doesn’t necessarily have to feel like the end of the world. 

What’s more is that while you might vehemently disagree with the tenets of what they affirm, apart from that, you can see them as an otherwise kind and friendly person. In fact, they aren’t that different from you at all.

Having a different view from someone doesn't necessarily have to feel like the end of the world. Click To Tweet

3. Refusing hatred is powerful. 

There’s no doubt about it: certain ideologies are harmful, and even dangerous. The people who advocate for them perpetrate misunderstanding and sometimes even violence against their fellow humans. We don’t have to be empathetic about that. It’s our duty to fight against it. 

But at the same time, Jesus never calls us to hate anyone. While we are called to hate what certain people do, we are not called to hate them as people. In fact, he calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who would seek to do us harm (Matthew 5:44). 

I’ve often wondered what Jesus intended our prayer to be for our enemies. Certainly not to give them success in their endeavors against us. But maybe that they would come to see a better way, that they might be transformed.

If you try to fight fire with fire, you’ll get burned. That’s why Paul offers us these words of advice.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

The only thing that can overcome evil is good. It may be incredibly difficult, but when we refuse to hate, we unlock a powerful weapon against prejudice–both theirs and our own.

This is why Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan is so poignant. In that culture, Jews and Samaritans were divided both racially and religiously. So when Jesus chose to make a Samaritan the hero of the story, the one who risked his safety to help a Jewish stranger, he was sending a powerful message. 

Anyone in need of care and compassion is your neighbor. And you are called to love your neighbor as yourself.

Anyone in need of compassion is your neighbor. And you are called to love your neighbor as yourself. Click To Tweet

True compassion is countercultural. 

While compassion and empathy have become buzzwords in our culture, true compassion is still incredibly countercultural. True compassion sees beyond the party line and isn’t limited to those in our tribe who see things the same way we do. It chooses to love the “other,” because it realizes that there is no us and them. There is only us. 

When we give into fear and retreat to our echo chambers, we do little more than comfort ourselves. But as we seek to spread compassion across great divides, we actually begin to make a positive impact on the world. It isn’t easy, but it’s the kind of compassion that Jesus has for you and me. 

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