At the end of one’s life, nothing hurts more than the realization that what one thought and believed to be true is in reality false. One philosopher stated, ‘It is not what we know that hurts; but what we know that isn’t true hurts eternally.’ It is not the eventual truth that hurts but the lost time and opportunity lost in holding onto a lie. I invoke reflection on the two most costly prejudices in the social and business environment; first, the prejudice against people and that against the way of work. The grand cost of prejudice is in the crippling effect it has on the bearer that renders them incapable of not only utilizing opportunity but also adapting to change. A lot of regrettable blunders and unjustified fears in business today attest to this weakness. No one can indeed estimate the true cost of prejudice to an entrepreneur.
Prejudice by whatever other name is a vice and a weakness. It is by far the most common and most costly vices in personal and business life. It is destructive to one’s judgment and devastating in its effect on the mentality because it is a symptom of a narrowness of outlook on the world. Narrowness only confined to one’s belief and conviction. It confines one in a life of illusion rather than reality. It is solidified by one’s environment; and only broken through, if at all, by experience of the world and a deliberate mental effort. Family, tradition, early instruction and upbringing fasten on every man preconceptions which are hard to break. We have subconscious prejudices even where we have no conscious ones. Unfortunately, even if what one believes to be absolute truth were false, for that particular individual, it will always stand as a living life reality. Many entrepreneurs and businesses haven’t lived to even half their true potential largely because of the limiting impact of prejudice to the quality of decisions of the business managers.
Prejudice against people:
The greatest prejudice in social life is that against persons—not against people known to one, for in that case it is dislike or indifference or even hatred, but against some individual not even known by sight. It could be against a particular individual or a specific group of individuals. It is liken to the fear of the unknown with the absolute conviction that the unknown is bad. It is a total irony. One writer shares a very realistic example;
A mentions B to C. “Oh!” says C. “I loathe that man.” “But have you ever met him?” says A. “No, and I don’t want to, but I know quite enough about him.”
“But what do you know against him?”
“Well, I know that E told D, who told me, that he was black through and through, and a bad man.”
A few weeks afterwards C sits next to B at dinner; finds him an excellent sort of man to talk to and to do business with, and henceforward goes about chanting his praises. As such, personal prejudice can only be disproved by the actual fact.
The lack of firsthand experience with the object of one’s prejudice kills all objectivity. Many employees or entrepreneurs have distanced themselves from the kinds of people who could give the valuable props or opportunities for advancement simply because they regard them ‘the wrong type.’ Many employers have missed out on superb employees because they regarded them ‘the wrong type’ on first sight. People are people. Whether you rate them high or low they remain people. Granted, there are some who are more competent or gifted individuals than others. But who says that such competence or talent is a reservation for just one race, gender, religion, class, size, height or by whichever attribute you are prejudiced against? Haven’t you seen countless examples of people you were once prejudiced against demonstrating physical and mental excellence over and above your estimation?
Prejudice against work:
There is another equally costly form of prejudice in the business world today. There are people who develop quite irrational dislikes for certain types of work or way of working. They are given, perhaps, an excellent offer, out of which they might make a considerable profit. They turn the matter down without further consideration. Their ostensible reason is that they are not accustomed and are not keen to deal in that kind of opportunity. Their real reason for refusing is that they are the victims of their own environment, and that they have not the intellectual courage or force to break away from it even when every argument proves that it would be to their advantage to do so. Their intellects have become muscle bound by habit or tradition.
Some people believe that particular types of work or investment are not good enough for their type. That some ways or demands of work like promptness, thoroughness, persistence, supervision and accountability or any other factor that is painstaking in getting top results, not their thing. You hear them saying, ‘If you want me to work well, don’t be on my back.’ Which work world are you exactly preparing for? Haven’t we seen business opportunities or work initially deemed ‘not worth’ earning much more than those deemed ‘prestigious’?
The advantage of prejudice is the preservation of tradition; its disadvantage is the inability which it brings to an individual or to a nation to adapt life to the change of circumstance. It is, therefore, at once both the vice of youth and of age. Youth is prejudiced by upbringing; age is prejudiced because it cannot adapt itself to the circumstances of a changing world. With all mental discipline, we can call our persuasions to objective scrutiny by judging things on their own merits independent of our past experience.
A young person should say to themselves: “I will forget that I was brought up to be a farmer; the world is open to me, I will form my own convictions and judge people and careers on their merits.” The subconscious self will still operate, but its extravagances will be checked by reason and will.
The old person should say to themselves: “It is true that all that has happened in the past is part of my experience, and therefore of me. I have formed certain conclusions from what I have observed, but the data on which I have formed them are constantly changing. The moment that I cease to be able to accept and pass into my own experience new factors which my past would reject as unpleasant or untrue I have become stereotyped in prejudice and the truth of actuality is no longer in me, and when touch with the world is lost the only alternative is retirement or disaster.”
The more quickly youth breaks away from the prejudices of its surroundings, the more rapid will be its success. The harder that age fights against prepossessions, born of the past, which gather round to obstruct the free operation of its mind, the longer will be the period of a happy, successful, and active life.
In my opinion, of all factors that have hindered quick human progress in business and social life, the failure to adopt to change ranks highest. And of all factors that make change fail to work, I rank prejudice on top of the list. As such I regard prejudice a poison; a full mixture of pride and egotism, and no prejudiced person, whatever their persuasion will attain complete success.
Isaac Maloba is a Human Resource consultant and Chief Administrator at Potential Management Centre ( POTMAC)