Opinion piece

Opinion piece

Mental health: Subtle forms of discrimination in our culture

Recently one of my clients recounted that she had been asked on several occasions if she was a Christian. She asked me a hypothetical question that I felt was both deep and profound. She queried whether, if her answer was no, she would be treated differently by those who asked. If so, she further wondered, are they really Christians?

As I am not an expert in theology, I let the question remain hypothetical. But it got me thinking. I thought about all the subtle ways in our culture that we discriminate against those who are different from us. Religion and race are the most obvious. Economic status is another, as is perhaps level of education. Surprisingly (still), I recently had a junior high girl express the fear of getting good marks, because of what others might think. Some adults discriminate against teenagers, and some teenagers, against adults. Those who get in shape may look down upon couch potatoes, and the couch potatoes criticize the fit for being obsessed. The computer literate think the others are lost in the past, and the technologically challenged may feel that the computer nuts are just that. Those who abuse their bodies with toxic substances are considered misguided, but then so are vegetarians.

We live in a world in which the most predominant characteristic is diversity. No two snowflakes or individuals are exactly the same. We know this. So why is it so difficult to live with the differences? Why does there have to be a seeming need to shut others out of our circle, if only in thought?

The greatest gift we can give to others is the gift of acceptance. We are all neighbours in the same little corner of the universe. It troubles me when I think that any of us, who have the luxury of living in a peaceful country, would create “battle lines,” making ourselves good guys, and those across the line, bad guys.

All it takes is one good tragedy to get everyone pulling together. Surely we don’t have to learn that way. There is beauty in everyone. If we don’t see it, it might be because we are not looking for it. Imagine what life would be like if we were to practice loving kindness towards everyone we meet? Imagine if everyone treated us as a friend? Probably a few drug companies would go out of business because depression, stress and anxiety would be drastically reduced.

If this is a new concept for you, try it for one day. For one day spread good cheer to everyone you see, the bus driver, the bank teller, even your teacher or boss. It won’t just be a coincidence that the world seemed kinder to you that day.

Gwen Randall-Young is an Alberta author and award-winning psychologist.