In her recent article Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, reflects on the idea of “proximity” and how by living in proximity, or in physical, emotional, mental and spiritual closeness with others we can foster a deeper sense of community, of place, and of connection with others around us and truly begin to decolonize our minds from the habitual us-versus-them mentality.
“We can be strongly conditioned, in the abstract, to think of others in terms of stereotypes. The use of stereotypes may be an evolutionary survival strategy for us to make sense of an immeasurably chaotic world, but it is also a cultural habit that creates psychological distance for each and every one of us. Thinking in rigid categories of projection locks us into a dynamic of seeing the world in terms of us-versus-them.”
Salzberg then goes on to cite a recent study on inter-group conflict by a group of social psychologists at the University of California-Santa Cruz. The researchers found that when ethnic, minority groups were in conflict, viewing one another through lenses of negative stereotypes, individuals who had close friends within the other group exhibited little or no such prejudice. They seemed to realize the many ways those formerly demonized “others” were “just like me.”
Proximity does lead to understanding.