“It’s harder to crack a prejudice than an atom” Albert Einstein
Ladies and gentlemen.
Britain is a country that is famed for its tolerance and acceptance. I myself am a product of this tolerance. My paternal grandparents were Polish immigrants who came here we believe in order to make a better life for themselves and for their family. We suspect that they may have left due to persecution, but what they left behind, what attitudes they encountered, we will never know.
This tolerance extended to their 2 sons, who were both born in Britain, and grew in the East End of London – apparently within the sound of Bow Bells.
So these two born and bred Eastenders grew up within our tolerant society. Which tolerated them to the extent of letting them live here; giving them an education and rights as citizens, but this is where we find that there are in fact limits to tolerance. And without going in to too many details, so tolerant was Britain that my father chose to change his name from Leifcovitch to Lawrence when he was just 14, because of all the tolerance he got when we was at school.
In Britain we’re not only famed for our tolerance, it’s something we talk about with pride. However, if we set the bar at tolerance, I personally think we are setting the bar at a very low level. I don’t want to be tolerated. To me, the very word seems to infer a grudging acceptance, something to be put up with, something temporary. And to me, being British, being a member of society is not something that I should grudgingly be accorded, or have limited rights to; something that can be taken away from me should someone stop tolerating my presence in their midst. And this is why we need to change people’s attitudes.
We need to challenge the attitude that there is an ‘us; and that there is that pesky group known as the ‘other’, somewhat lesser than ‘us’, somehow less entitled than ‘us’, and that ‘they’ are taking away from ‘our’ rights, ‘our’ values, ‘our’ way of life. Because the fact of the matter is that we are all ‘us’.
Where do our attitudes come from? Some believe it’s in our DNA! But I tend to agree with those who believe that attitudes are shaped by our environment, our families, our peers, our experiences. And if we can learn attitudes, then just as surely we can unlearn them.
Our attitudes come from copying those who are important to us, or from being persuaded into forming, or from being rewarded or punished by acting in one way or another.
Much of our understanding about other people comes from second, third or fourth hand information. It’s an article in a paper, a character in a book or show, a joke or a story. And the more we trust the source, the more we accept the information. Or is it that we read, listen or talk to the sources of information that we agree with? Think about the papers we read!
So how do we change attitudes? Well some schools of thought recommend drugs, hypnosis or even electric shock treatment, but I think that could be going a little bit far don’t you?
There are 3 main approaches to changing attitudes:
Cognitive – using information to generate conflict (dissonance) between held attitudes and new attitudes.
Behavioural – rewarding or punishing attitudes in order to create change.
Social – using role models to encourage people to copy those we admire.
Here at the GBC we want to change negative attitudes to our wonderful diverse society by talking to people, telling them the facts, showing them great and inspiring examples of the benefits that our diverse society has brought us.
We need to talk to people and talk to them in a way that is interesting. All too often discussions about our society are dramatised in the press, debated in the hallowed halls of academia, or used as an electoral baton by political parties.
And either by talking down to people, telling people what to think or say, or not to think or say, we haven’t managed to change their attitudes so far. So surely it’s about time we tried something different? And that’s what we want to do with GBC. Tell people facts, break down myths, let people ask questions, talk and engage with each other. Well it’s got to be worth a try!