Comments, In Focus, Needle's Eye

The components of minority ‘success’ in a secular democracy

I want to argue that there is one key component in minority ‘success’, whether materially or in terms of recognition—good communication.


Nigel Pocock


The attitude of majority society is an extremely important determining factor in the social success of any individual from a minority group.

Positive discrimination towards ethnic groups, religious minorities, mentally ill people, older folk—makes a real difference.

There are some simple psychological truisms which are helpful to take note of in this respect, as they provide both hope and realism, and can aid social policy. The first is the so-called ‘foot in the door’ technique. If a small favour is granted, a much bigger favour can then be asked for, and will almost always be granted.

The second is the way in which actions and attitudes directly affect each other. Lay people tend to assume that attitude is prior to action. Psychologists have demonstrated that the reverse is just as often the case. Hence, doing the favour will positively affect attitudes.

Thus, legal changes which encourage positive actions (provided these laws are not coercive, which increases resistance) can change attitudes, as desegregation laws have been shown to do.

These psychological observations provide hope because they suggest that change can happen; and realism, because changes cannot happen overnight, but in small, carefully planned, and achievable, steps.

This implies a process of education, both of the majority, but also the minorities. Both need to understand the other, and cease being suspicious, but trusting. It is sometimes implied that majority society is always to blame for wrongs done.

This is itself a form of prejudice. To break down prejudice both ways, there has to be a common medium—the language of the majority culture. For everyone to learn the 130+ languages spoken in London, is absurd and impossible. Since language is inseparable from culture and historical experience, some understanding of where the majority derive their meanings is essential, if misunderstanding is to be avoided.

Likewise, the majority needs to have some understanding of minorities in their locality.

The biggest problems are likely to revolve around groups that are strongly theocratic, and for whom a sacred text speaks the inerrant words of the Deity.

In such communities, outside information is brought under the supra-cultural (above culture) authority of the sacred text, and is not permitted to effect change.

Closed thinkers are poor at problem-solving when faced with a novel situation that is outside of their inventory, even if they claim that their supra-cultural authority has a pre-packaged answer. To a psychologist, this is classic ‘closed’ thinking. Here all responses are ‘interpretive reflexes’.

Psychologists have tended to see such black and white thinkers as ‘immature’ (having a poor sense of their abilities, and that of others), and have suggested various strategies in order to achieve greater maturity and more effective social functioning (‘efficacy’).

These involve suggesting amendments to the way in which a theology functions, for example in the case of someone over-committed to a doctrine of predestination, who has become totally fatalistic, to the extent that they cannot make any decisions (‘decidophobia’). Conversely, the therapist might also encourage a sense of God’s care and love for a person through the doctrine of predestination, thus helping a person to feel valued if their self-esteem is poor.

(Photos: Pixabay)


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